By Amanda Buckley, OMNIPLAN
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the trend: skinny jeans and side parts are out, wide leg jeans and middle parts are in. If you’re like me, you remember when those were in style 20 years ago or even 20 years before that. Fashion is a wild cycle, and yet most of us would hold onto our 20-year-old jeans if we thought we’d still fit into them.
But just as fashion fads change, so do trends in design—and churches are no exception. Our extensive work with church clients is all pointing in one direction—the megachurch is over. Well, kind of. Allow me to explain.
A Little Background
At OMNIPLAN, we work with a wide array of commercial client types (retail, multifamily, office, etc.) and a long list of churches. Our church experience really began with one client—Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX.
More than 15 years ago, we interviewed to design a new campus for this up-and-coming church that was meeting in a local high school auditorium. Ultimately, we were hired for the most unusual reason: we had almost no church experience. Our portfolio at the time was largely retail-focused, primarily with regional shopping malls including NorthPark in Dallas, Santa Monica Place in Los Angeles and Oakbrook in Chicago—just to name a few. Now, I don’t say this for the purposes of advertising; it’s just to help paint the picture.
Our expertise was in creating spaces where people wanted to be, stay, hang out. For a church whose deepest desire was to invite outsiders in and captivate them with the Gospel, this was an attractive quality. We certainly wouldn’t give them a church that looked like any other church. And so, Watermark was born. Their team truly partnered with us and provided us with so much well-thought-out visioning material, it made it easy to find their unique DNA and translate that into a built reality. It was a rewarding and beautiful process.
Fast forward a bit: Watermark is now a well-known megachurch (or close to it anyway). Their weekly attendance is around 10,000 people, and they are known for their bustling campus seven days a week. You can walk in at 2pm on a Wednesday and there are dozens of people scattered about in meetings, ordering coffee, working remotely. In the past decade, they have established several satellite campuses throughout the DFW Metroplex.
But a shift is occurring. Watermark, just like many other churches (Matt Chandler’s Village Church included) are spinning their satellite campuses into autonomous church plants. Why the change?
The New Direction We’re Headed In
In order to answer that, we have to look back where we at OMNIPLAN started: Retail. People are quick to assume brick and mortar retail is dead, but in actuality it’s the department store that struggles. Shopping malls are dependent on a successful department store to “anchor” their mall and drive other tenant leases. So, when it fails, the whole thing begins to suffer. Department stores are struggling because they no longer provide the atmosphere people are looking for—an authentic and curated experience. Retail has seen this shift, and is adjusting and re-inventing itself through more intimate and tailored experiences.
Large churches are learning this as well. People desire an authentic experience, and authenticity gets harder to achieve the bigger you get. So, we’re seeing many of our church clients localizing their campuses and helping them to become independent of the mothership.
Keep it Real: New Spaces for Fellowship
Authenticity is the ticket, and it’s critical to create spaces that evoke that feeling by developing a variety of large, open spaces as well as intimate spaces, by using plenty of natural light and transparency throughout, and by using warm materials that feel comfortable and welcoming. In short, they want people to WANT to spend their time at church and focus on creating spaces that attract and draw people in.
This is arguably an area that the traditional or historic church has continually struggled with. While they are often beautiful structures defined by their ornate architecture, they are typically cold and uninviting. Hard pews, high ceilings, minimal natural light—these aren’t spaces where people want to linger.
However, in recent years, these churches realized the impact the megachurches had and saw the need to update their spaces to include more spaces for fellowship. Churches like Highland Park Presbyterian Church and Park Cities Presbyterian Church are great case studies of this trend. And for architects, the challenge of blending the old and the new is an exciting one for sure. Parishioners now pour out into beautiful light-filled spaces after service and have time to visit with one another versus being forced directly outside into the Texas heat.
Despite their differences, these churches are learning the same lessons: community spaces and authentic design are paramount. They are ebbing and flowing with the times, proving their relevancy in an ever-changing world.