What Story Does Your Facility Tell?

In today’s Westernized society, we’re privileged to be exposed to a plethora of engaging, dynamic communicators. These storytellers exist along a spectrum within the sacred and secular worlds, from Max Lucado and Rick Warren to George Lucas and Walt Disney. Their stories come in many iterations, from the spoken and written word to feature films known and loved worldwide. 

Among church leaders, the art of sacred storytelling has traditionally been confined to the pulpit and children’s classrooms. But today’s world is becoming increasingly post-Christian; placing story in sacred silos alone isn’t an option any longer. Instead, our churches must embody successful storytelling from branding to building, and beyond. 

We call this three-dimensional storytelling, a form of storytelling that transports and immerses guests into another world. The three dimensions are: 

* Strategic Storytelling, in which we use strategy to tell a story that reflects a congregation’s unique personality, DNA and journey. 

* Spatial Storytelling, in which the space is built to draw guests into a storytelling space through a number of disciplines, including architecture, interiors, landscape design and more.

* Digital Storytelling, in which we use technology, including websites, apps, virtual reality and augmented reality to bring a digital element to the storytelling experience. 

Film school taught me that story is based on plot (why), character (who) and setting (where). For a church to hone in on its unique story, the leadership team must reach a consensus on what those story elements are for their church. Your mission field, congregation, origin story and vision casting for the future all play a part in your unique, three-dimensional story. 

The Characters 

Who is at the center of your sacred story? Your unique character, relationships, identity and voice ultimately express value internally and within your community. As a collective, your church possesses spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional and physical aspects that make up your unique DNA. 

Here are some questions you can ask to begin determining your story’s characters: 

* Who are we as a church? 

* What sort of people make up our congregation? 

* Who are we trying to reach? 

* Who are our leaders? 

* Where did we come from, where are we now and where are we going? 

* What unique impact do we strive to have in our community, in the nation and around the world?

* How are we bringing others to Jesus? 

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’re a step closer to sharing your story beyond the pulpit and sharing Jesus in a broader way.

The Setting 

Where does your sacred story take place? Spend time thinking about the community you serve and its unique history. Consider your facility, and how it may or may not currently play a part in how you’re telling your story. In all of God’s creation, why have you chosen this specific place? 

Many churches are housed in rubber-stamp buildings that function in the same ways, regardless of where they’re located. They provide a needed meeting place for the congregation, but may not necessarily contribute to the story in a unique way otherwise. Other structures may be master planned and designed in order to be a functional part of that story. Regardless, it’s important to fully understand your space and the local environment as your setting. 

The Plot 

Your plot is the “why” behind your sacred story. Ultimately, the reason for your church’s story is leading others to Christ. This plot is made up of the who, where and what. Determining your characters and setting will naturally lead to your story’s plot. 

Once you have the plot, setting and characters down, you can begin to strip away elements of your space that are not essential to moving your plot forward. This can be as simple as removing unsightly flooring or using reclaimed materials in your building renovation. 

The Big Idea 

At the heart of your character, setting and plot is your “big idea,” a powerful concept that can help your church determine design and development decisions as you move toward telling your sacred story in a more powerful way. It lends itself to an internal consistency that, over time, will help you eliminate chaotic, contradictory elements from your physical environment. 

A strong example of this is the big idea we developed for Saddleback Church’s multiphase renovation, the first phase of which opened on November 13, 2021. Their idea is “Church Without Walls,” a concept Saddleback has embodied consistently in ways both big and small. It came about as a result of church closures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as Pastor Rick Warren and his leadership team worked to find new and innovative ways to allow their congregation to gather safely. 

Before Saddleback had a permanent building, they were a church of over 20,000 members. They have pursued digital church and multisite strategies aggressively, even prior to COVID-19. And, they have seen more baptisms since lockdowns began in 2020 than in any time during their history.  

Saddleback’s team opted to open up the side walls of their main building (originally large windows), replacing them with four aircraft hangar doors that transform the auditorium into an indoor-outdoor venue. In addition, we revamped and upgraded the original metal stadium seats to terraced platform and theater seating along the back. We redesigned the north patio to flow and connect from the inside out, and walkways were transformed into “welcome portals” to help attendees along their journey from the parking lot to the welcome centers and an open lobby area.

This big idea blurs the lines between indoor and outdoor worship, creating a safer environment for members to gather as well as exhibiting better creation care in Southern California’s Mediterranean climate. The auditorium is just the first phase in a campus-wide makeover that will eventually shift the majority of Saddleback’s worship and event capacity outdoors into year-round protected, shaded space. 

Ultimately, your big idea will help lead people to Christ in whatever form that takes. Whether you’re creating a thriving city center, a virtual reality Bible experience or a jungle adventure for your kids’ ministry, you’ll be making an impact for the kingdom through the creativity given to us by the Creator.