Dream to Dedication Day: Developing a Destination that Lifts the Spirits

I’ve learned repeatedly that the Kingdom is built on relationships, rather than bricks and mortar. One key relationship that God has been nurturing is my friendship with John Cissel, SIOR since he gave up his personal ownership of a major real estate brokerage firm in the Northeast US to focus on Kingdom building.

If you don’t know John yet, you will be blown away at his thought leadership. He is not only a licensed real estate broker, but also holds a General Contractor license, because doing real estate in an urban context requires a detailed understanding of how buildings go up, go down, and what it takes to renew them. This is the guy who helped Tim Keller figure out how to do multi-level urban church in a Manhattan parking structure. According to Tim (Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY),

John is uniquely positioned to help churches and faith-based organizations in undertaking larger-scaled real estate projects – a service that is so desperately needed.  I don’t know of others who possess the background, expertise, and success in so many facets of both commercial and kingdom-centered real estate, and who are doing this work through a Christian organization that is solely focused on the faith-based non-profit community.

I’m pleased to announce that John has joined our team as President of Visioneering Real Estate.  As we’ve discovered in over a thousand faith-based developments around the world, it is not enough to have competent design and building teams. As our mission field is increasingly diverse and urban, the traditional suburban church building model of buying cheap farmland and developing out a campus has gone the way of the “Mall of Generica”…the economics and demographics just don’t make sense any more, and no-one is building them. Adding strategic real estate advisory services to our team of urban planners, architects, interior designers, branding gurus, and technical consultants is truly a needed and exciting addition to support pastors who want to pastor, rather than play “Monopoly” with the church offering.

We’ve learned the hard way that when trying to develop Christ-centered community, churches often get a cold shoulder because they are perceived as a LULU (Locally Undesirable Land Use). They are often seen by the city as a black hole in the city, taking away the ability of a site to generate sales or property taxes. They are seen by neighbors as a parking and noise problem. Gone are the days when the highest and best site was reserved for sacred space. John has discovered that our shared client base can be strategic anchor tenants for active, mixed use urban space that connects people horizontally, as well as vertically, just as sacred spaces in traditional settings, such as European cathedrals on the city’s piazzas, always have. However, it does take sophisticated financial modeling, due diligence, and clear vision-casting.

If you’d like to explore how your mission might align with our vision of helping you “develop a destination that lifts the spirit” let’s talk!

>> Read more from Mel.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mel McGowan

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comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

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Saving Suburbia: From the Garden to the City

God is a God of community.

Before the beginning, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “did life together” in community. “In the beginning,” God created a perfect setting for community—Eden—for vertical connection with him, as well as horizontal connection with others. After the cleansing of the flood, God chose a particular people—a community—to tell his story and reveal his ways. And for the past two thousand years, the Bible says that his presence has not been contained by a tent or a building but is somehow found within in Christ-centered community: the church.

Humans, made in God’s image and for his purposes, are hard-wired for community.

However, today, the concept of community is being kidnapped from us:

  • 3-car “garagescapes” have replaced tree-lined front porch landscapes
  • Contemporary mega-churches (many with the word “community” in their name) feature darkened rows of attenders seeking anonymity
  • The internal combustion engine killed Main Street, Elm Street, and the walkable scale of human towns
  • Digital technology and social media seem to remove the need for actual physical spaces to connect with others

All of these changes are demonstrating that when we divorce the word community from the reality of a particular human-scaled place, we fundamentally lose something in the mix. Today, many church planters and next generation Christian leaders feel a calling to be “architects of community” in either urban or suburban settings. However, most are ill equipped to answer this call because they lack a biblical understanding of place and a historical understanding of terms like city and suburb.

Without an adequate theology of place, we resort to either devaluing it (throwaway church buildings) or overdoing it (by trying to re-build the temple). And without a greater understanding of how physical human ecologies and environments either facilitate or constrain community, we will fail to be truly present in the places and cities to which God has called us.

In light of this, we’ll consider a theology of place first, and then explore the tangible challenges we face for creating authentic community in our cities, with a special focus on the suburbs.

Mel McGowan, president and founder of Visioneering Studios, has written an inspiring and challenging treatise on the “place” of church in America today.

>>Download Saving Suburbia: From the Garden to the City here

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Mel McGowan

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

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Design Intervention

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mel McGowan

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

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Current Trends in Church Space Design and Use

from an interview with Tony Morgan and Mel McGowan

You’re going to love this connection. Mel McGowan spent nearly a decade with the Walt Disney Company, he founded Visioneering Studios, a nationwide architectural and community development ministry which was awarded the 2008 Solomon Award for “Best Church Architect”. He has been named one of the top 25 cultural influencers by OC Metro magazine for his role as an “Architectural Evangelist”.

TONY: What’s a current trend that you’re seeing churches across the country begin to embrace?

MEL: I’d say that the biggest shift that I see is a move away from the paradigm of a “campus” (what I call the “Acropolis” model) to that of true community gathering place (the “Agora” model). Increasingly, both established megachurch pastors and next generation leaders are increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of a one-day-a-week, single use, internally oriented megachurch campus in which the parking lot sits empty the rest of the week. Like the ancient Acropolis, the faithful (who have made a prior commitment to “ascend” to the sacred space) are separated from the rest of the community.

The roots of the internally oriented “campus” paradigm come from monasteries and cloisters. To the outsider, this “Christian country club or compound” can seem intimidating at best and completely dissonant with the “Unchristian” perception of Jesus (as described in Gabe Lyon’s book). To the insider/Christian, it becomes to easy for this to facilitate an insular “Holy huddle” lifestyle.

With that said, some mistake the only alternative as an “anti-building” or underground house church approach. I tend to agree with my friend Chris Seay when he told me that real estate development and building can be one of the most incarnational acts that we can join God in. The trend that I see is rediscovering the role of ecclesia (Christ-centered community) as an “anchor tenant” in the heart of our cities and communities. I hesitate to use the “Third Place” term because it has been co-opted into the old campus model to mean repainting the lobby in Starbucks colors and serving coffee on Sunday morning. The real power in the term has roots in the ancient Greek agora (the predecessor to the Roman forum, Medieval piazza, and the American town square), where sacred space was always “in the mix” of where people (believers or not) “did life.”

This is what is keeping our five Visioneering Studios drinking out of God’s fire hydrant across the country is a “both/and” approach for churches that aren’t satisfied with putting up a “No Vacancy” sign at the front door of churches that are experiencing strong growth and evangelism. We believe that what this looks, tastes, and feels like should be different for each community.

  • For Austin Stone, it was a “For the City Center” (a non-profit business incubator for secular and faith-based organizations dedicated to providing renewal and redemption in Austin).
  • For Mark Batterson in Washington DC, we’re redeveloping a former glassworks and historic rowhouses on Barracks Row (the “Main Street” of Capitol Hill) into a vertical mixed-use block integrating subterranean parking, ground-level retail (a satellite of their award-winning Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse), a children’s attraction, and two performing arts/concert venues (doubling as ministry space).
  • Also in DC, near Dulles we’re converting a former Anheuser Busch distribution center (the “Bud building”) into a 70,000+ square foot “N Zone” indoor sportsplex that will also be the first permanent venue for New Life Christian Church.
  • At Saddleback’s 100+ acre campus in Southern California, we’re working on a master plan as part of Rick Warren’s “Decade of Destiny” to line parking lots and structures with a pedestrian oriented mixed use “Main Street” which will link the existing campus core to the 100% retail intersection at the church’s perimeter. This will allow the thousands of parking spaces to support the first “downtown” that the newly incorporated city of office parks, strip malls, and residential tracts has ever had.

TONY: How do you see this trend impacting the future of churches?

MEL: I tend to agree with Alan Hirsch that the “both/and” approach is generally the way to go. There was a time when the attractional “megachurch” model seemed like a generally accepted SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). I see a strong parallel with the idea of the church as a participant in authentic “Third Places” and the “Future Travelers” initiative described by Alan and Dave Ferguson in “On the Verge” in which fast-growing attractional megachurches are finding balance by integrating missional-incarnational approaches into their DNA.

In some ways, this is really less an emerging trend than the rediscovery of a “timeless truth” in that throughout the history of our species, sacred space was central to the physical space of community, from the tribal circle to temple courts to the great squares of Europe. It was really only after World War II and the rise of wrong-headed Modernist planning and zoning that cities not only forgot how to facilitate sacred/secular Third Places at their heart, but actually made them illegal by requiring separate land use zones for residential, retail, etc and making churches “beg for the forgiveness to exist” in other land use zones through the onerous Conditional Use Permit process.

I see this trend as relevant for the future of churches at all sizes. For the megachurches with large properties, a simple approach is to consider their parking “moats” as “greyfield redevelopment” potential sites in which synergistic community buildings (sports, commercial, educational, etc) can create “bridges” back to the community). For smaller churches no longer interested in fitting into the “Seeker Sensitive mega-campus mold”, we are finding that establishing themselves as a legitimate community development corporation, a non-profit arts group, or a quality gathering place (eg. Coffeehouse) opens doors to “Main Street”, in-line retail, and obsolete commercial sites opens doors to the city in the same way that the old model announced “we’ve arrived, so give us land use entitlements so that we can not pay property or sales tax, and be a ‘black hole’ in the social life of the city six days a week” closed doors.

If you are intrigued by Mel’s thinking, you may want to pick up one of his books. He is the author of Design Intervention: Revolutionizing Sacred Space (2008) and Saving Suburbia: From the Garden to the City (2009). You can also follow his Travelogue at MelMcGowan.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mel McGowan

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COMMENTS

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Mr. Todd McMichen — 11/10/12 8:53 am

Tremendous article! The future is present and pastors will be required to possess a powerful vision. The day of building a building and we will grow is gone. Vision first, be brave, don't quit, and build to propel the vision.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.