By Mel McGowan
Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, strives to meet people where they are and then walk a mile or even a lifetime alongside them. This church does not attempt to impress its community but, rather, exposes its own raw, real character to draw in “messy, ordinary people.”
My company learned this firsthand when we presented a storyboard to them that included a photo of nice, new work boots, and the church leaders’ immediate pushback was that the boots wouldn’t be theirs. That’s because the shoes they walk in would be a pair of boots borrowed from a friend of a friend that are checkered with holes and caked with dirt, but which do the job.
Real Life Ministries is not for perfect people; it is a place for real people with real passions and real problems and real lives to come and meet with Jesus.
The ministry was started by four families in 1998 and has rapidly grown into a megachurch reaching thousands each weekend in rural Kootenai County, Idaho. I got to know founding pastor Jim Putman more than a decade ago while leading an effort to create a master plan to accommodate RLM’s growth. More recently, we were called in to lead a “design intervention” to remake the existing spaces of their Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene campuses, which will serve as a blank canvas for Spatial Storytelling of their unique mission, values, and vision.
Real Life Ministries has answered God’s call to practical action by directing their time, talents, and resources toward real-life problems like not being able to pay rent, buy groceries, or find a job. These needs are met through a variety of RLM-run establishments such as a community center, thrift store, food pantry, and the church itself.
We are weaving RLM’s strong conviction to equip people beyond spiritual needs into the exterior and interior environments of the church. We are communicating the church’s heart by using raw materials such as reclaimed wood and rebar in the numerous gathering spaces. Refined elements and unnatural finishes were excluded from the design palette.
“Everything is practical,” senior designer Bryce Reyes explained. “These materials aren’t trendy elements picked just because they look cool; rather, the materials were very intentionally selected because, like the worn-out boots, they reflect the raw and real nature of the church, the story of the church.”
This authenticity is laced into the walls and furniture to help share the story of Real Life Ministries, not distract from it as a modern and newly polished environment would.
Colors and patterns are woven throughout the environment to subliminally convey personal elements of Real Life Ministries. Traces of a herringbone pattern are incorporated throughout the campus, from faint etching on signage to the layout of wood flooring. This pattern’s distinct layers represent “life on life” within the church. Orange is boldly incorporated throughout the church’s campus and its graphic branding. This vivid color stands out amongst the neutral tones of wood and metal, infusing a sense of life and energy into the place, and conveying the gospel message.
These touches also serve as subconscious connecters. Newcomers who receive a flyer with a herringbone design element may feel a sense of familiarity to the church and its buildings, bringing a sense of continuity to RLM’s visual brand. These sparks of design hold immense significance in bringing to life RLM’s calling.
This calling is being actively lived out as Real Life team members and outreach activities become an engaged part of people’s lives in Kootenai County and beyond. In a world that urges people to keep up appearances through superficial smiles and artificial agendas, Real Life Ministries releases its congregation to freely experience “where real life and Jesus meet.”
Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.