It used to be that churches, no matter the religious affiliation, shared many similar traits – never straying too far from a consistent set of traditional and expected details: stained glass, a steeple, pews, song books, a piano. Today, however, tradition has given way to reinvention, with churches creating their own definitions of worship and broadening the conventional mindset regarding what a church is “supposed” to do and for whom. In short, church has evolved to become less about being a place and more about providing an experience.
According to an article by Outreach Magazine studying the trends among growing churches, today’s church has “definitely broadened its net by providing more intentional and creative ways to attract more community involvement.” The article states that successful church leaders have realized that it’s their responsibility to “bring to life a more tangible way of connectivity through our designs.”
The most important aspect of connectivity, however, is feeling a genuine connection with Jesus Christ. Until people feel that through the love of the people who welcome them into the church, there is no fancy building or flashy technology that will inspire the kind of experience that keeps people coming – and coming back. As long as it feels right … it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
In fact, for The Crossing Church in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, it looked a lot like a pizza joint. When the church started a little over six years ago, the congregation consisted of about 35 people and they met each week in local pizza restaurant, Gambino’s. “It worked out well for everyone;” said one of The Crossing Church elders, Randy Rogers; “we had our services while they got the kitchen and things ready, and as soon as we finished the service, we all ate pizza.” It soon became clear, though, that there was an appetite for a lot more than pizza: attendance grew so much they had to leave behind the pizza restaurant. They moved into a vacant building that, when the congregation eventually outgrew its square footage too, would become – wait for it – a Mexican restaurant.
Today, the church’s attendance averages just over 300 every week and they’ve left behind the restaurant spaces for a new building all their own. It would be an understatement to say they’ve largely disregarded the elements of traditional church design, embracing instead an aesthetic that is familiar and comfortable to its mostly rural target audience: “we wanted it to look more like a Bass Pro Shop than we did a church”, said Rogers, who also served as the contractor during the building’s construction. “We didn’t do a steeple. Instead we designed a large breezeway and used lots of cedar and pine.” Attendance numbers confirm that there’s something about the building that resonates with their community – but the church has been intentional about making sure the experience people have is just as appealing as the physical appearance. “I don’t think there’s a Sunday that goes by that somebody is not wearing camo”, said Rogers, “People feel at home here because this building just matches country folks. If you want to wear your ball cap, wear it. It’s just really casual, and most people feel really at home really quick here.”
To help bring their vision for the church to life, Rogers enlisted the help of Bill Buckner, owner of B&B Welding in Sallisaw, OK. Buckner has been a Star Building Systems distributor for more than 15 years and sells and erects exclusively Star buildings. He has worked in partnership with the church since the construction of their first building nearly four years ago and worked with them again recently to expand that building when they quickly outgrew it.
The expansion, explains Buckner, is the perfect example of why he’s extremely loyal to Star for all of his metal building construction projects: “We had to beef up the existing rafters so we could add on this second phase, so we used all Star steel, sheeting, and bay insulation. Because this was an add-on to our existing building, I was able to just let the engineers at Star know what I was trying to accomplish and send them the existing job number from four years ago. I drew a little sketch and then they designed to match the existing building. They already had the wind loads and snow loads and all the criteria – so they were able to create a plan quickly and efficiently.”
For Buckner, the experience he gets with Star is similar to the experience that keeps the people of Sequoyah County, OK coming back to The Crossing Church: it’s friendly, it’s comfortable, and it feels like family. “They’re a big corporation, but they feel more like a family-based business;” says Buckner, “They have good people working for them. And when you’ve been doing it for 15 years, you build a great relationship. That’s good for me, it’s good for them and it’s good for our customers.”
And to that, we can think of no better words to say than simply … amen.