By Mel McGowan
Imagine if a small church in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania could pick up the torch from William Penn’s “Holy Experiment” through the development of a postmodern village green. Vibrant Church, previously known as Capital Area Christian Church, has offered its surrounding community a simple, relationship-centric approach to Christianity for 35 years. Vibrant serves the Susquehanna Valley, Mechanicsburg, and Harrisburg areas, where they generously and relentlessly pursue close connection with church members and the community alike.
Vibrant’s mission is to be a gift to and destination for the surrounding community. In addition to an all-in-one, multifunctional building for worship and classes, the church campus boasts a state-of-the-art Adventure Park and Playground open to the community from sunrise to sunset, complete with a handicap-accessible playground, fitness area, hiking trail, volleyball courts, soccer field, and nine-hole disc golf course.
Vibrant strives to demonstrate God’s love to people inside and outside their church, doing whatever it takes to help neighbors experience Jesus and live for a greater purpose. Vibrant is a church in the business of transformation—but to reach a larger community, the first transformation had to be their brand.
Renaming Capital Area Christian Church
Vibrant’s senior pastor, Don Hamilton, approached my team at PlainJoe Studios in early 2017 for help with rebranding and master planning. At the time, they were still using the name Capital Area Christian Church. As their leadership team moved forward with plans to open a second campus, they realized the name limited them to the Harrisburg area.
“The church is highly collaborative with their community and city,” said Shawn Stewart, director of strategy at PlainJoe Studios. “Our team felt that, as they were investing in the original campus to extend their park and bless the community, their name and brand should better reflect their philosophy of ministry.”
Because the church’s philosophy is to choose relationship over religion, our team wanted to help them convey their fun and welcoming personality to the surrounding communities. Our teams landed on the name Vibrant, a word that means “full of energy and enthusiasm.”
Once the new name was in place, we moved to overhaul their brand.
Redefining Vibrant’s Brand
Our team started the rebranding process by traveling to Mechanicsburg to meet with the church leadership team to learn about who they are, their place in their community, and how they function and interact in their area.
“Every church is like a different human being—they’re all completely different,” said Matt Molsberry, principal architect at PlainJoe Studios Architecture. “Each church has its own personality and DNA. When we start out with a church, we try to find out who they are as a personality.”
We take that knowledge and then apply our signature three-dimensional approach to storytelling (Spatial Storytelling, strategic storytelling, and digital storytelling). Through environments and architecture (spatial), rebranding and design (strategic), and a fresh, new website (digital), Vibrant would begin to better convey their story to church members and the surrounding community.
Next, our team took a first pass at capturing the essence of the church’s personality and brand—a “screen check” or “hearing test.” We brainstormed with Vibrant’s leadership team to determine the necessary adjustments, and then revised until we reached a consensus on what the church needed their new brand to communicate.
During the discovery phase we conducted with their leadership team, we identified these core words to describe Vibrant’s brand personality: generous, caring, inspiring, fun, and authentic. We used those attributes to inform every subsequent branding, planning, and design decision.
Vibrant’s new logo, like its mission—“Love God, Love God’s People, and Love God’s World”—is arranged in a triangular shape and comprised of three different triangular parts. The church regularly incorporates each of these actions in their interactions and activities with one another and the outside community, so it was important to clearly convey these actions through their logo.
The resulting icon is timeless, recognizable, and symbolizes the teamwork Vibrant strives to encourage and model. The abstract “V” is reminiscent of a reflective prism, which conveys a sense of energy and light . . . of vibrancy.
This vibrancy is further communicated through the bright, harmonious colors we selected for the color palettes. Vibrant’s primary colors are blue, teal, lime, navy, and gray, while the supporting colors are orange, red, magenta, and purple.
Differentiating Vibrant’s Ministries
Instead of creating multiple identities for each of Vibrant’s ministries, we opted to maintain their brand identity while identifying each specific area for ease of navigation. We gave their ministries a slightly different twist by using their primary brand as a launch point.
Vibrant stayed true to their brand while differentiating their campuses and ministries by naming them “Vibrant [Campus Name]” and “Vibrant [Ministry Name].”
We approached the youth and kids’ ministries a little differently, giving each a distinct identity within the construct of Vibrant’s overall brand strategy.
“Each ministry leverages the basic V icon, logo, and primary brand font that’s connected with the church’s official logo,” Stewart said. “But we added additional personality to each that reflects the life stage each ministry’s members are in.”
For example, the V icon for Vibrant’s youth ministry, The Vibe, resembles a neon sign and communicates fun, energy, and a cool hangout. For Vibrant Kids, the V icon appears to have been sketched with crayons and conveys creativity, learning, and fun.
How Pennsylvania’s Backstory Informed Our Master Plan
Our team’s Spatial Storytelling approach to Vibrant’s master plan began with careful study of the history of Pennsylvania—specifically, William Penn’s concept of the Pennsylvania colony as a “Holy Experiment.”
In 1682, Pennsylvania was founded as a utopian society by a group of Quakers, including Penn, who believed that government by the Golden Rule was possible. We let Penn’s legacy and the spiritual history of the early settlement inform our team’s planning process for Vibrant’s future campus expansion. The master plan our team created for Vibrant is based on re-creating the idea of a New England village green. And it’s also the basis of Penn’s personal master plan for Philadelphia, which he coined a “greene country towne.”
Using the Master Plan to Reinforce Vibrant’s Vision and Brand
The big idea we followed as we planned Vibrant’s future campus became the Vibrant Green—a triangular village green around which we’re reorienting the church’s campus. Rather than a “town square,” the triangle shape mirrors Vibrant’s new brand icon.
As a concept, the village green is a place for the town to gather, share, and experience life. It’s a place that brings fun, life, light, and color to the community—and a place to care for one another. Vibrant’s brand personality embodies all these qualities.
During the master-planning phase, we created plans for two more buildings: a worship building and a building that can serve as a space for a cafe, offices, and youth ministry. The worship center can be used for large-group worship and activities. And as Vibrant expands its campus, their current all-in-one building may be converted into a space dedicated to children’s ministries.
The streets that run through the campus form the shape of a cross; those streets may be left open to interconnect during the week or closed during Sunday services. We also designed a courtyard space that’s ideal for church or community gatherings.
South of the courtyard, we’ve created plans for a small chapel the church can use for events like weddings and funerals that don’t require the larger worship center. It can also be used as an alternate venue for concurrent services; for example, if Vibrant opts to offer simultaneous contemporary and traditional services, they can divide the two services between the two buildings.
As Vibrant Church moves into its next phase of growth, its leadership team is well-equipped with the tools they need to make decisions informed by their mission, vision, and brand personality. As a community with a heart for their surrounding region, the master plan they’ll follow for expansion will open more doors to the outside community, drawing in more people and, ultimately, creating new opportunities to share God’s love.
Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.