By Mel McGowan
StoneBridge Christian Church in Omaha, Nebraska, strives to serve as a metaphorical bridge to God, one another, and the community.
Omaha is a vibrant, thriving community situated between prairies and mountains. StoneBridge’s visionary leadership team wanted to capture Omaha’s uniqueness as part of their story and reflect that energy through their facilities.
StoneBridge’s team is dedicated to social compassion, relevance, authenticity, friendliness, and approachability; they desired to bring their facilities into alignment with their philosophy. They wanted to create a space that was inviting, comfortable, and fun.
My journey with StoneBridge began in 2009 while I was serving with a different architectural firm; StoneBridge’s identity and story have remained consistent all during that time. My current architectural design team is pleased for the opportunity to collaborate with StoneBridge as the church continues efforts to tell their unique story through architectural design.
Leading in Omaha as a Father-Son Team
Multisite and outreach pastor Mitch Chitwood and his father, Mark, the senior pastor, work together to serve the church’s growing body. Mark started with the church in 1996, when it had 100 members, and has helped lead it to a multisite vision that now impacts people throughout Omaha. StoneBridge’s average weekly worship attendance now exceeds 2,000 at its three campuses.
When I began working with StoneBridge, Mitch was still part of the church’s student ministry. Now, he’s running our current master-planning project as a leader on the StoneBridge team.
Together, Mitch and Mark have overseen significant church growth. Their unique relationship has developed into a long-term, father-son partnership in ministry.
“There’s a lot of joy and trust in [our partnership],” Mitch says. “It has been a fun journey, and we’re excited to continue.”
The Commons: A Signature Community Feature
StoneBridge transformed the church’s facade with a new front-porch lobby in the area they call “The Commons.” The unique area makes everyone feel welcome. The glass entrance includes a rotunda and a glass silo that serves as an indoor playground.
The design both welcomes and disarms visitors from the community, which was the goal. It has proven to be both compelling and effective.
“We’re literally known as ‘the silo church’ to the community,” Mitch says.
The design communicates that children and young families are a top priority at StoneBridge by offering an outdoor play space complete with play rocks, rubber flooring, and benches for parents to connect with one another.
The Commons also marked the expansion of StoneBridge into a multivenue campus. This particular building was designed to serve as a video venue for overflow from the regular service—“a campus within a campus,” Mitch says.
Upon entering, visitors become engaged with the church’s story. Environmental graphics, theming, and interior design communicate StoneBridge’s passion for people and also the city of Omaha.
“We wanted to help StoneBridge solidify that idea of strong connection, friendship, passion, and community in a visceral and visual way that you can see on the walls,” says Johnny Davis, Spatial Storytelling creative director at PlainJoe Studios.
To create that spiritual and emotional bridge to newcomers, designers used warm tones, photography depicting bridges, and a typeface that communicates a down-to-earth, at-home feeling.
Design Intervention: StoneBridge’s Multisite Strategy
StoneBridge wants to convey their DNA as they expand to offer additional sites throughout the surrounding area. They rolled out a new identity and brand that expresses a cohesive message across all venues and sites.
This included retrofitting historic church buildings to help the established architecture “play well” with their shared church story. That was evident at the most recently added campus in Fremont. The campus building—a classic, brick church building—needed to reflect StoneBridge’s identity and be prepped for modern worship, while retaining its historic beauty and character.
“Mel’s team did some design intervention at Fremont and turned it into StoneBridge to bring our culture to that old building,” Mitch says. “We married the history of the building with the way StoneBridge needed to look and feel for our families.”
StoneBridge Hollow: An Immersive Kids’ Experience
StoneBridge also rebranded their separate kids’ ministry area. Dubbed “StoneBridge Hollow,” it’s an elaborate environment for children from birth through fifth grade that ties into the master plan and celebrates the outdoors in a whimsical way.
“Before parents drop their kids off at their classrooms, they can already tell how much we care about kids,” Mitch says. “It makes it feel safer to know they’re walking into a space that looks and feels fun and inviting.”
StoneBridge Hollow is open during all services at every campus. With each campus plant, the church has transferred that same look and feel for a consistent experience across all locations.
In It for the Long Haul
“We’re looking at continuing the StoneBridge story with PlainJoe Studios,” Mitch says. “We love story. Mel and PlainJoe have both been a big part of that, and we’re excited to continue working with them—whether that’s launching campuses, continuing the StoneBridge Hollow theme, or continuing to master plan at our current campuses.”
I’m excited that our studio is able to continue serving StoneBridge through their next phases of master planning and architectural design in support of their vision to serve Omaha and its surrounding communities into the future.
Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.