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Casino Church…wait, what?

September 1, 2017

Casino Arizona

Flying into Phoenix from Charlotte while making a connection to San Diego on Wednesday evening I was looking out the window of my American Airlines Airbus 321 and saw a site that looked like a big mega-church, and I wondered if it was possibly a project by the company I work for. At Visioneering Studios we design and build churches across the country, so as we cruised by at several hundred miles per hour I snapped a couple pictures out the window with the thought that I would search it out on a map after I got to the hotel in San Diego later that night.

The site was a bit remote, not unlike a lot of other suburban mega-churches that often have to go to the outskirts of larger cities to find enough acreage to house their campuses. This site was right off the main highway for easy access and great visibilty (another trait churches look for). It was surrounded by undeveloped desert scrub brush and not much else, but residential rooftops were nearby and growing churches often seek to get out in front of the suburban expansion coming their way that will one day put them right in the middle of the community. This site had huge parking areas and the design of the building included a covered drop-off, a cylindrical tower “entry” element and an interesting and creative layout that was reminiscent of churches we’ve designed at Visioneering Studios.

While I was too far away and passing by too fast to see any facade details or logos I was quite certain it was a church and I was interested to find out which one it was and if we had designed it. I snapped a few other photos out the window of the plane as we landed in the 105-degree oven that is Phoenix in the summer, and forgot about it until I got to the hotel after landing in the Mediterranean climate of San Diego that makes otherwise sane people willing to pay $750,000 for a 3 BR house and spend 4 hours a day commuting 5 miles to work. I got to my room and popped open my MacBook. By finding the Phoenix airport on Google Maps and looking at the landmarks in the photos I took, I was able to trace the flight path and find the “mystery” church site. As I scrolled the map east from the airport and zoomed in on the site to find out the name of the church another name popped up instead…Casino Arizona!

casino slots

Wow, that was not what I was expecting at all. I was surprised, but shrugged it off and forgot about it as I tried to get to sleep quickly since it was now the middle of the night to my east coast body. The next day passed in great meetings with a multi-site church about changes to some of their campuses and then it was time to head home. Leaving San Diego this morning I connected in Phoenix again, and as the Boeing 757 raced skyward toward Charlotte I noticed that we were backtracking along the same route I flew in on a couple days prior, and I now saw the casino out the window again. This time I already knew what it was and that’s when I had an unexpected and troubling question pop into my head. “What does it say about the churches we work with, and the designs we create, that they can be confused with a casino?”

Woah! My initial reaction was negative and surprising to me. I thought, “Have church facilities become ‘secularized’ to the point that they look like ‘sinful’ casinos?” That’s a charge often hurled at mega-churches by smaller or more traditional churches and individuals who often look condescendingly at the “mile-wide and inch-deep” broad-brush caricature that culture has painted of mega-churches and their “excesses.”

Having worked with churches for 15 years, unfortunately I have found that there are some bad apples out there that people can point to that fit that mega-church caricature. It’s sad that this is ever true, but for every bad apple I have seen or heard about, there are hundreds of others that are fulfilling the Great Commmisson, reaching their communities, and sending people and resources to the ends of the earth serving the hopeless and helpless.

I’m not one who tries to over-spiritualize every event in my life and I don’t audibly hear the voice of God speak to me. I often wish I did, but that could be scary too, because those who hear that still, small voice are often the ones we read about who have changed the world in the most incredible ways through sacrificing their own personal comfort and ending up in places I never even knew existed.

As we accelerated upward and eastward leaving the casino quickly behind, inside I felt what may have been the prompting of the Holy Spirit as another emotion and another question suddenly bubbled up. Maybe it was because on the flights this week I brought along Mark Batterson’s new book, “Whisper,” which is about learning to be still and quiet and listen for God’s voice in your life, and so I was more “in tune” for it, but the new emotion I felt was joy and the new question was, “If a casino, whose sole purpose is to take your earthly treasures from you, can use creative architectural design to develop a place people want to go to, why can’t a church ‘redeem’ this type of engaging design and use it as ‘architectural evangelism’ to draw people to Christ through His Church, whose sole purpose should be to teach you that your earthly treasures aren’t as important as your eternal soul and heavenly treasures?” How true. Externally focused, life-giving churches will use whatever means and methods are necessary, short of sin, to reach others for Christ because they understand and fully embrace the eternal consequences that are at stake.

I long ago realized that arguments between believers about things like pipe organs vs. electric guitars, hymnals vs. screens, pews vs. theater seats, and steeples and stained glass vs. “secular” building designs are all spiritually neutral personal preferences. Jesus never sang from a hymnal while wearing a suit and tie and sitting in a pew as light filtered though the stained glass windows and someone played “Amazing Grace” on the organ. He also never sang a Chris Tomlin song from words on a screen while wearing shorts and a t-shirt sitting in a theater seat sipping a latte while haze and moving lights created the ambiance for the shredding electric guitar solo. Neither method changes the eternal truth of the gospel message, so as long as that truth is being preached and lived out by that church, the rest is just following Paul’s example.

We’re all moved to worship, and drawn to a deeper relationship with Christ, in various ways, which is why I believe that Paul statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, that he would “become all things to all people so that in all ways he might save some,” is still applicable to these discussions about personal preferences today.

So now I don’t feel bad that I mistook a casino for one of our church projects. I know that this style of facility has been used in amazing ways across the country to reach millions for Christ and I’m glad to have played some small part in that through my work at Visioneering. I also know that this style of building is not for everyone and not for all time. Things change. Large mega-campuses may never completely go away but there’s been a trend in the church market away from these over the last few years toward smaller, community-based, multi-site locations. If I were to fly over one of these smaller church projects we’ve designed I may mistake it for a great restaurant, or retail shop, or public park, or I may not be able to distinguish it at all, and that’s okay. As long as we are designing churches as engaging spaces that are outward focused and serve others while reflecting the beauty and creativity of our Creator, I’m good with whatever form that takes. How about you?


12 Weeks With B

February 9, 2017

A failed adoption is a heartbreaking thing. I wouldn’t trade our time with B last summer for anything, but it has taken a lot of time to heal and still hurts.

Chatty Chicks

We have arrived at the end of our 12 weeks with B. I apologize that I haven’t updated you much during the 12 weeks, but I didn’t really have the time. We packed as much as we could into our 12 weeks as possible. We visited with family, went to church, went bowling, played mini golf, went to the movies, played lots of card games and board games, went to the beach and Charleston, went to the lake, wake boarded, went tubing, went to the pool, learned to ride a bike, had a birthday party for him, and just spent time together as a family. Most of all what we tried to do most was show him love, patience, and consistency. I will do my best to be as honest and transparent in the post as I can be all the while trying to protect B’s privacy and to some…

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#Adoption. Just Do It.

February 21, 2016

Chatty Chicks

ADOPTION - Just Do It6-01

Are you crazy?

Wow, just wow!                                  


Don’t you have enough kids already?

Don’t you ever want it to be just you and your husband?

These are just a few of the comments I have heard over the last 4 years that we have openly been talking about adoption. I usually don’t even try to answer them when someone asks. Later…later, when I am alone in the car or as I am falling asleep and the last thoughts of the day leave my head one of these questions will rattle through my mind.

“Are you crazy?”

A doctor asked me this half jokingly when I was in for an appointment. A doctor who promises to first do no harm. A doctor who heals the sick, who is with a patient as they take…

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Is Your Church a “Tug”?

November 17, 2015

Is your church facility designed to be functional? That sounds like a good thing and most people would probably answer affirmatively. But I want to rephrase that and ask two other similar, but vastly different, questions and see if your answer changes. Is your church “only” functional? Is your church “truly” functional?


So what’s the difference? The picture above is a “Tug”. If you’ve been to an airport you’ve seen these. They are used to pull the baggage carts from the plane to the terminal. Pretty simple. If you look at the Tug you might also say pretty ugly. The Tug was obviously designed by an Engineer instead of an artistic and creative Designer. Everything about it screams “utilitarian”, but it’s “functional” and isn’t that most important? For pulling a luggage cart you may be right, but it really wouldn’t have cost much more to manufacturer a Tug that was designed by someone creative who could provide something visually appealing and not just functional.

Taking it up a notch, you could translate the same utilitarian, boxy design used on the Tug to create a “Tug-like” minivan. It could be completely functional at getting you and your kid’s soccer team to Chuck-E-Cheese after the big game and it could have a DVD video system and cup holders and all the other “functions” you need. It would probably still be a little cheaper to buy than the latest Honda Odyssey (but maybe not after you include all the functional bells and whistles). So why doesn’t Honda sell a Tug-like minivan that is only functional? Simply because nobody would buy something that is so ugly. Yeah, it could get you from point A to point B, but design and creativity matter to people. We are made in the image of the ultimate Creative Designer and we are wired to appreciate the beauty of good design even if sometimes it only registers subconsciously. What makes good design, or what makes something beautiful? Most people who haven’t been trained in design can’t tell you the “school book” answers you learn in those settings, but they usually “know it when they see it.” Nobody needs a degree in automotive design to look at a Tug next to a Ferrari (or a simple Honda Odyssey) and know which is more visually appealing.

So now let’s take it up another notch. If your church building is used as a tool to reach those far from God and share the ultimate Good News of Jesus, and if we serve the creative God of the universe are we happy with a Tug for our church building? But, it’s functional, right? Here’s where we unlock the answer to the other two questions. Is is “only” functional? If your building looks like a Tug and no unchurched person driving by would ever give your building a second glance, let alone ever consider entering it because it is a cheap ugly box that is completely out of context with the rest of their community, then congratulations your building may qualify as “only” functional.

Now for the hard part to hear. That church building that you were just coming to grips with as “only” functional may not even be that. Why? What is the core function of your church facility? I’ll give you a hint:  the primary function is not to serve as a place for the “holy huddle” of people who already know Jesus to meet on Sunday morning. It’s core function should be as a tool to reach those in your community who are far from God. And guess what, people who are far from God are often superficial. They live in nice houses, drive nice cars, shop at nice stores, go to nice restaurants, and hang out with their nice friends in other nicely designed community spaces. They don’t usually choose to spend their time going to functional Tug environments. So take a look around next Sunday. Your building doesn’t have to look like the Crystal Cathedral, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it does need to be a place that is visually appealing to your community if it is to be “truly” functional.

A good designer can do that for you, even if all you have right now is a Tug. Good designers can transform a Tug into a thing of beauty. In fact Visioneering Studios just won another Solomon Award for the Best Church Design for their renovation of Red Rocks Church’s campus in Lakewood, Colorado (see photo below). Visioneering repurposed a Tug (an empty grocery store in an underused strip shopping center) into an active center for the community utilizing simple and cost-effective materials.  Utilizing good design, what was once a Tug has essentially been “overhauled” (a la Chip Foose) into a classic hotrod that is now truly “functional” in its main purpose of drawing people who are far from God through the front doors.  So, is your church facility “truly” functional or is it just a Tug?


Artificial Skylight? You Won’t Believe Your Eyes

February 15, 2015

CoeLux Artificial Skylight

What room in your house, your office, your church, or other building is dark and uncomfortable to spend time in? It might be a basement space, an interior room, one with small windows, or one with no windows at all. What if you could put a skylight in that room and bring the look and feel of a bright blue sky with warm sunshine streaming into that space? How much more appealing would that space be to you? As humans we all crave natural light, but the reality is it’s just not available in all of our spaces. CoeLux has developed an artificial skylight that looks so real it will fool the human eye and the camera. Check out their video and see for yourself.

But, before you run down to Home Depot and ask for one for your basement, it’s not yet that readily available and to get one installed will set you back about $70,000. However, like any new technology as more uses are found, efficiencies in fabrication are realized, and competition from other vendors enter the market, the price should come down. Anyone remember when the first flat-screen Plasma TVs came out for a cool $15,000 not that long ago? Can you think of a space that could use something like this? I’m betting most everyone can and I would keep my eyes on this product. What uses and locations can you think of that would benefit from this amazing invention?

CoeLux Artificial Skylight

CoeLux Artificial Skylight

Will Your Next Building Be Made of LEGOs?

August 21, 2014

Legoland Hotel

Will your next building be made of LEGOs? No, not those tiny bricks your kids leave all over the house that you step on in the middle of the night and end up screaming like a banshee about. I’m talking about a new patent-pending concrete brick system called “Smart Bricks” from the folks at Kite Bricks Ltd. that looks just like giant LEGOs. They are stacked in interlocking layers with internal cavities to run piping and conduit and have snap-on panel systems that can be used for interior finishes. These bricks can be used for floors, walls, and ceilings and the manufacturers are making some heady claims that their system will reduce construction times, lower costs, and be much stronger than other materials.

Will Smart Bricks change construction as we know it? Check out the video below and let me know what you think in the comments. Personally I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than building a life-size LEGO set with my son? In fact I think we could use a cool fort in the backyard. Anyone else with me?

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways

May 30, 2014

Solar Roadways

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you might remember this post from almost four years ago, “Solar Roadways – Driving On Glass?” I was a bit skeptical, alright a lot skeptical, but it was such a cool concept. Well, now the cool concept has advanced to a more developed prototype, the inventors, Scott and Julie Brusaw, have figured out how to create excitement with a viral marketing video, and the Solar Roadways team has gone down the crowdfunding route to try to turn this into a reality. Check out the amazing potential for this system in their viral video:

Sounds so Pollyanna right? Maybe it is, but it would be really cool and a big boost to the economy, not to mention that it potentially takes care of so many problems with this one solution. I mean come on, it: generates free electricity; prevents snow/ice buildup; allows all power/phone/fiber lines to run underground; collects storm water runoff; and uses LED lights for lane markers, warnings, and parking striping. Oh and let’s not forget it still functions as a road/parking lot/sidewalk too. I’m all for letting the private market sort this out first through crowdfunding, capital investors, or IPOs. Let private individuals and companies install this in their driveways and parking lots if it is cost-effective and provides a good return on investment. If it works this invention will change the world. If it doesn’t the private market will sort it out and relegate Solar Roadways to a footnote in history about this couple and their wacky idea. Either way I’d rather go that route before the government dumps trillions into it, artificially subsidizing it and then eventually killing it through mismanagement and corruption (does Solyndra ring a bell?), leaving the taxpayer (or in reality the taxpayer’s future grandchildren) holding the bill.

What do you think about this idea and whether you think it will work? Would you install it on your driveway?

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