Beyond Building Concepts and Renovations
Beyond Building Concepts and Renovations

LifePointe Christian Church in Elk Grove, California, develops a new space to reflect what they already have—deep relationships.


By Mel McGowan

“Imagine the church being the community of people that it’s supposed to be, where we are choosing to connect in deep, meaningful ways with others through relationship so we can pursue life to the fullest in Jesus,” says Chris Delfs, senior pastor of LifePointe Christian Church in Elk Grove, California.

Delfs is talking about something that goes beyond building concepts and renovations. He desires to re-create his congregation’s current space into something that is warm and welcoming—a beautiful environment to incubate relationships. The church believes deeply in fellowship; they were searching for a way to reflect that in their meeting space when they found PlainJoe Studios.

Time and attention are priceless and precious commodities. That’s what sets LifePointe apart—the church heaps time and attention on the people of its community.

Scrolling on cell phones and passive interactions are popular in this social media age, but LifePointe wants to change that. They believe in true hospitality. The people of the church are always willing to stop for a smile, a cup of coffee, or an encouraging conversation.


The Road to a Permanent Building Starts Here

LifePointe isn’t new to the scene. The church has been serving the local community for 14 years—most of that time setting up and tearing down weekly in schools. During those portable-church days, a small team began to search the area for a permanent building. After several years, they concluded nothing was available in the area, so they decided to disband the team.

Then, God provided.

In 2010 the church leadership identifed an old Harley-Davidson store, and at first, it seemed too expensive. They were able to sign an eight-year lease, however, while they continued to negotiate with the building’s owners. They made tenant improvements, moved into the building, and held their first services there on December 11, 2011.

As they waited for God to provide finances to purchase that building, LifePointe supported others—they donated generously to the outreach programs of neighboring churches and helped plant other churches, the way friends and family had helped them when they were just beginning.

On May 25, 2016, LifePointe was able to purchase the old store, along with about four acres of adjacent property for eventual expansion. The building has been a blessing. But since moving in, LifePointe has been trying to make improvements so their building looks less like an old motorcycle dealership and more like a welcoming church.

A dealership space is cold, with soaring ceilings and an austere feeling. It presents design challenges because of its long, straight, narrow corridors, which make people feel as if they’re being herded. Dealerships are designed to move product and charge people a high premium—which is quite different from the the goal of good church design.

Who LifePointe is does not align with how their building looks. After walking through their church and hearing their history, we worked together to figure out how to visually bring their story to life in a three-dimensional way.


It’s Time to Design

PlainJoe Studios wanted to create a space that encouraged flow and provided natural, conversation-friendly areas. It’s important that people move naturally and intuitively into the gathering spaces—both the sanctuary and the fellowship portals.

We designed an outdoor area with a large fire feature and plenty of seats and tables to gather around, with clear directional signage to cut down on confusion for visitors. The long corridors provided an opportunity to tell LifePointe’s story through visual imagery, with a history wall that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to LifePointe. We used the church’s motto, “Go. Grow. Give.”

To attract younger families, we are updating an entrance for kids. Once inside, signage will clearly direct parents to their children’s classrooms. The space, called Discovery Mill, will be decorated with novelty camping and exploring facades with examples of discovering Jesus in their world.

Further examination of that theme led us to use images of machinery and digging in the kids’ area to illustrate excavating God’s Word. Discovery Mill is a nod to the history of Elk Grove, built during the gold rush, but instead of mining for gold and silver, Scriptures focus on the preciousness of mining for God’s truth.

The Camp is another area for students. The visual imagery there calls the youth to acquire light in the darkness. The student spaces have an industrial vibe that include cool fixtures and a bare-metal, stripped feel to accompany comfortable seating and a relaxed, functional place.


It’s Not the Destination, It’s the Journey

LifePointe wanted a space that communicated the journey we all are on with warmth and encouragement to “Go. Grow. Give.” They also wanted an outdoor feel to reflect their beautiful city, located just outside of Sacramento.

“The Greek word ekklesia [is used] in the New Testament for ‘church,’ and that is an interesting choice,” Delfs said. “They didn’t choose the word synagogue, which means a ‘building or a place.’ They used ekklesia, because it meant ‘the community of believers,’ and that’s what we are about. It’s not about the building. The building is a place to reflect what we already have—deep relationship.” And it’s true. It’s what makes what we do so rewarding. We work with people who understand something unique: a space tells a story; and the space should help, not hinder, relationship. When it all comes together and the project is completed, that new space can actually advance the kingdom.

Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.

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