A seasoned church builder shares the most engaging designs in his portfolio
Engaging gathering spaces
Pastor Joel Sims at Word of Life Church in Flowood, Miss., has the best gathering space of any church I’ve ever built. This space features a full kitchen, so the church is serving full meals before and after church on Sundays and Wednesdays.
During the week, it’s all about the coffee — people drop in, use their computers, work remotely, and visit with each other. Joel even holds a lot of staff meetings in the coffee shop area because it’s set up ideally for it; you can have more intimate conversations or take advantage of the open seating spaces.
The gathering space at this church features a food bar with plenty of stationary, bar-height stools.
There’s a lot of lobby access in this design. The church can host receptions or just about any other type of event here. In fact, Joel probably has more lobby space in the two buildings on his campus than any I’ve ever built, as well as quite a bit of backstage space.
The finishings in the lobby areas really emp
hasize warmth. You can see that a lot of wood and natural finishes are used, as is incandescent — versus fluorescent — lighting. The result is very inviting.
But the addition of natural light is also important, here; it makes the space really comfortable. To this end, glass surrounds the dining area, coffee shop, and seating area. There’s even an outdoor café visible and accessible from the lobby.
Word of Life Church
Engaging weekday spaces
When we’re showing potential clients their building options, Church On The Move — a reimagined shopping center in Broken Arrow, Okla. — is invariably one of their favorites.
This church was originally a workout facility, so we were working under limitations with the ceiling height, columns and so on. But the team did an amazing job; we removed quite a few columns, took out some concrete structural walls, and put beams back in. And really, columns aren’t that difficult to remove, so retail spaces are actually a good option for a lot of churches.
In the end, the worship space at COTM is easily transformed for more solemn services or for very energetic ones.
The way the facility is designed, it grabs attention from the road. People get a feel for the church’s priorities even before they go inside. For example, they can see that there’s a coffee shop and an indoor playground, which makes sense because this church aims to be a welcoming place for moms, kids and families.
Their coffee shop is a great design, too — very sleek. But what makes it even more successful is that COTM partnered with a very successful local café that already has a draw. That really ramps up the attractiveness of the space during the week.
Inside, COTM did a particularly good job of communicating its branding with wall art, signage and more. This reflects the pastor’s personality.
It’s important to remember that people have a very high comfort level entering non-traditional spaces, like shopping centers and Best Buys. Increasingly, it feels like a no-brainer for church leaders to consider these types of facilities.
Church On The Move
Engaging spaces for children, youth
I believe the children’s facility at Cornerstone Word of Life in Madison, Ala., sets the bar for children’s spaces we’ve built. Above all, the church has successfully communicated how important it is that kids feel comfortable at their church, with this design.
At CWOL, children have their own worship space which is separate and apart from the main sanctuary. So, they’re having their own church experience, that’s for sure.
Cornerstone Word of Life
And when it comes to designing spaces for youth members, I believe the youth facility at RHEMA Bible Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., is another standards-setting space.
It has plenty of different options for meetings or small group gatherings — places where youth can disconnect from their technology and reconnect to each other.
Outdoors, young people have access to volleyball courts and game areas; inside, there’s a basketball court.
They enjoy their own, large dining and hangout area with its own food service setup.
Comfortable, colorful, age-appropriate seating is featured throughout.
RHEMA Bible Church
It’s a world apart from the kids’ and youth spaces most of us grew up with, which seemed never to change. Today, if a church isn’t being a little creative with these spaces on a regular basis, it’s missing an opportunity. Go to any retail store: they’re remodeling every handful of years. Churches should be the same way. Fortunately, a lot of those changes can be achieved with sound, lights and video elements.
And as you can see, foosball is forever.
When it comes to engaging church design, a lot changes, but a lot of tenets stay the same. Design trends shift; but if your facility helps you make people feel welcome — and engage them in fellowship and meaningful worship while they’re on your campus — then it has certainly served its purpose.