First, let me say that just using the term “church architect” already makes me cringe, because unfortunately the American countryside is littered with examples of bad design foisted on the public by well-intentioned “church architects” who unfortunately just don’t get it. Second, let me also say that for most successful church projects the best solution probably isn’t a “church architect” anyway. Instead the best solution is most often an architect skilled in culturally relevant placemaking working as part of a fully integrated design-build team, but that’s a discussion for another day.
If there’s one thing I’ve heard repeatedly when working with churches at Visioneering Studios it is, “the last architect we worked with just didn’t get us.” More than a few times churches who come to us have already spent months (or years) and thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars working with another architecture firm on their church campus or church building, only to become exasperated and frustrated and left with nothing to show for it but a roll of plans on a shelf. We’ve had several of our best projects come at the expense of previous architects who got fired because they just didn’t get it.
Here are the Top 10 complaints I’ve heard from churches about their frustration with church architects:
1. They don’t listen to us.
2. They don’t get our culture/ministry/style.
3. They aren’t bringing us any ideas.
4. They aren’t showing any creativity in their designs.
5. They tried to tell us how we “should” do church.
6. They tried to modify one of their “stock” plans to work for our unique needs.
7. All their projects looked the same.
8. They designed projects we couldn’t afford to build.
9. We were looking for a ministry partner and we got a sales program.
10. There was no consideration of future phases.
Results like this leave churches confused and unsure of what to do for their facility needs. If you are talking to a church architect and they tell you they have all the answers before they’ve spent any time with your church, or they pull out their “stock” plans with their 200-seater, 500-seater, and 1000-seater, you have my permission to run in the opposite direction.
At Visioneering Studios we never tell a church how they should do church. That’s up to you in following your God-given vision and mission. We come in and ask tons of questions aimed at finding out the unique DNA of your church and your church’s vision for reaching your community. We look at the historical context of the area where your project is located. We investigate the cultural and architectural context of your region. We listen to what your community wants and needs, and we help you figure out how to turn your site and your building into a destination and a ministry tool to serve and reach out to others.
Our experience working with hundreds of churches across the country has proven one thing. Each church is as unique as each individual that God created, and no cookie-cutter solution is going to serve your church’s specific needs adequately. When we partner with a church we treat our initial design concepts as a hearing test. If your architect isn’t a good listener they won’t be a good architect either. We try to reflect back to you in our design what we heard from you during all our preliminary programming discussions. If we heard right we proceed, if not, we course correct before moving deeper.
If this all sounds unusual, it is. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in pursuing for your project, we’d love to talk with you further.