3 Reasons Your Church Building Should Communicate a Story (and What It Means)

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“If the culture is not by design, the culture is by default.” – Scott Milligan, Disney Institute

A church building that clearly communicates its congregation’s story can lift the spirit, increase member engagement, and multiply its reach into the local community. Does yours?

Your building can either help or hinder your connection with one another and the community you serve. If you’re effectively using your building to communicate your story, you’ll exponentially increase your chances of strengthening that connection.

Form Follows Fiction (Not Just Function)

Architecture school programs students with the mantra that “form follows function” and buildings are machines. Form follows fiction is simply the re-discovery that buildings can tell stories, and have throughout history. From stained glass conveying Biblical narratives, to our current tool kits of digital media and environmental graphics, buildings have had the ability to convey a message. There are far more effective ways to communicate to the thousands of cars that drive by than relying on weary architectural forms and changeable corner message signs that proclaim, “We’re too blessed to be depressed!”

Every faith community deserves a unique design solution relevant to their specific cultural, environmental, economic and spiritual context. One size does not fit all! Every community has different demographics and psychographics.

Don’t wrap your unique vision and clarity of calling with generic bricks and mortar. Integrate your DNA and story into a one-of-a-kind building solution that serves as a tool for mission.

Your church’s story lies at the heart of the following three elements:

  • Setting – Where are you in the world? What’s happening around and inside your church?
  • Characters – Who are your members, and who are you trying to reach?
  • Plot – What’s your purpose?

When you use your building to communicate your church’s story, you can:

  • Change your church from the inside out
  • Impact lives inside and outside the building walls
  • Change your surrounding community

There are three major reasons why your church building should communicate your story:

1) To keep your church “insiders” focused on your mission, vision, and values.

Your church building should communicate your congregation’s unique history and vision. Each church is a distinctive part of the body of Christ, so every individual facility should uniquely serve the church’s ministries and local culture.

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If your building communicates the story of your church, your leadership team and attendees are more likely to stay in touch with that story. It’s harder to lose sight of your greater purpose when you’re immersed in it.

Using your facilities to communicate your story also helps you to keep a consistent connection to your identity and your brand. Staying focused on who you are will help others focus on that, too.

2) To deepen your connection with each other and your visitors.

If your leadership team and attendees know your story, that’s great — but it’s not enough. Your facility should also tell that story to visitors and the surrounding community.

When someone new enters your facility, your strategic design of the space should tell them who your people are, what you’re all about, and what your purpose is. Communicate your value and unique story through your brand identity and physical spaces to captivate both members and visitors. You can do this with:

  • Dynamic visuals to connect visitors with who you are
  • Consistent corporate identity
  • Consistent logo, branding, and design

The textual elements of your church’s story that you incorporate into your facility should be in conversational, plain English — not insider jargon.

3) To effectively carry out your purpose in the surrounding community.

Without a clear story, your church can still have a positive impact. But, to maximize that impact and multiply your reach, you’ll want to make sure your facility is telling that story.

After all, your church building isn’t just a container for people; it’s meant to facilitate a connection to God. Historically, congregations met in mixed-use, indoor-outdoor facilities in the heart of their communities.

It’s too easy to create a self-contained campus that doesn’t reach the community surrounding it; instead, create a space for the community to gather. Identify ways to share your space with your neighbors when it’s not being used for services:

  • Got a contemporary auditorium with a fully-equipped stage? Use it as a performing arts space when it would otherwise be empty.
  • Use empty rooms (like classrooms, conference rooms, etc.) in your building to open a community co-working space.
  • Rent portions of your building for an adult or child day-care center when services aren’t in session.
  • Share your recreational facilities or playground with the surrounding community.

A great example of a church that uses its facilities to effectively reach its community is Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, CA. The building is at the center of a piazza that’s open to the community as a gathering place. A coffee house on site is open to the public (rated #1 in the region on Yelp), as well as an education space.

Crossroads plans to expand the site with more retail and residential spaces in the future, further enveloping the community in its story. Even now, it’s a place in the center of the Corona community where people want to be.

If you’re ready to tell your story through your church building and need help with next steps, contact PlainJoe Studios for a free 30-minute consultation with one of our Spatial Design gurus. Find out more here.

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About Author

Mel McGowan

Mel McGowan is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Principal at PlainJoe Studios. He leads the Architecture & Spatial Storytelling practice of PlainJoe Studios. Having spent nearly a decade with the Walt Disney Company, as well as years with a private multi-disciplinary planning, design, and engineering consulting company in Southern California, Mel has designed and managed an enviable portfolio of projects for world-class resorts, institutional, retail, community, and mixed-use projects. Whether master planning a 2,000 acre “new town” or scripting the guest experience of a 2,000 seat church, Mel approaches each endeavor with a passion for creativity, excellence, and “coloring outside the lines.

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