By Mel McGowan
Imagine if, instead of building a church campus, a church developed the new town center for its community—a place that would serve people both inside and outside the church seven days a week, drawing the community together for generations to come.
This is the vision of Grace City Church in Wenatchee, Washington, a church in the heart of an agricultural community more than two hours east of Seattle. Located just east of the majestic Cascade Range, Wenatchee sits on the shore of the Columbia River and is home to a unique, entrepreneurial-minded community.
Lead pastor Josh McPherson leads Grace City’s vision to build a thriving new campus that will harness the entrepreneurial spirit of Wenatchee’s people, draw families in for recreation and education, and introduce the unchurched to Jesus. The church is known for its thriving partnerships with the broader community and believes it is perfectly positioned to make a life-changing impact through these plans.
“Our hope and dream for this property is that people are going to come here, ideas are going to come here, and those people and ideas are going to converge,” McPherson says. “And they’re going to enjoy the present and enjoy each other even as they dream about building the future.”
Dreams of a Father and Son
When McPherson’s father, Greg, was a young man, he left behind the family business and a dream of building a fisherman’s retreat in his Idaho hometown to dedicate his life to ministry. Following in his father’s footsteps, McPherson left a career in the corporate world to plant Grace City with his wife, Sharon, in 2008. What they originally anticipated to be a small gathering swelled to more than 1,000 over the next few years until the congregation moved into their current location in the Numerica Performing Arts Center in downtown Wenatchee.
But McPherson had bigger dreams for Grace City and Wenatchee. I was enlisted to help develop the master plan for Grace City’s new site, a property at the confluence of two rivers. During the planning process, McPherson shared a photo of a similar property: a site in Idaho also at the confluence of two rivers—the land upon which his father had once planned to build his retreat.
A father had once dreamed of helping vacationers rest and reconnect with one another. Now, his son dreams of something similar: a place where people find rest in Jesus and connection with him. From there, those rejuvenated spirits would share the good news of the Spirit who offers peace from the anxiety and stress of a broken world for generations to come.
Church Designed for Community
Because the new Grace City campus will be on property located outside the downtown core, McPherson and his team decided it needed to be a blessing to the community at large—something outside the common large-church paradigm . . . something that would be accessible seven days per week.
“We refused to build inside the old paradigm: a member-only club, open one day per week,” McPherson says. “[We thought], what if we came together and leveraged our resources and combined our generosity to build something that could be received by our community as a gift?”
My team designed and developed a master plan for Grace City that will function as a mixed-use, collaborative campus that will house both for-profit businesses and nonprofits. The heart of the campus will be a co-working space named The Intersection Co-Lab, where entrepreneurial-minded locals, start-ups, freelancers, small businesses, and large enterprises can interact and work alongside one another as they grow. Also planned for this space is a Mela Coffee Roasting Company location, a specialty coffee purveyor based in downtown Wenatchee.
The Grace City Event Center will adjoin The Intersection, with multiuse capacity for groups of 50 to 1,000. Rather than being what I call a “multi-useless gymnatorium,” the venue is carefully designed with a balance of stewardship, intentionality, and excellence. We can reinvent the room based on the experience because it’s all about the technology and the magic of the soundstage.
A children’s ministry area called Grace Town will house dynamic learning and activity spaces that will function beyond Sunday school.
“We want to have a space in which we can allow our kids to grow up, explore, learn, but not just one day a week,” McPherson says. “So our dream for this is to build it so it works for Grace Kids, but then repurpose it all week long for an academic space and a daycare.”
Nurturing a Heritage of Faith
Grace Town, like the rest of Grace City’s campus, will pay homage to the Wenatchee area and its agricultural heritage. The Spatial Storytelling will celebrate people and place, and really dig into the way God uses his creations to sustain us. The gospel can also be woven into the agricultural heritage of the valley. Jesus thought agriculture was a helpful metaphor for how the kingdom of Heaven spreads from one person to the next: Plant a seed, grow the kingdom from that seed, and produce ripples that carry forward into future generations.
Also planned for the campus are areas called The Landing and Story Tower, where members of the community can overlook Wenatchee, the Columbia River, the Cascade Range, and the picturesque orchards that are a signature feature of the region. A traditional wedding chapel, a courtyard designed for a variety of community events, and a fitness center will also be located at Grace City.
An added benefit of the co-working space, business incubator, wedding chapel, event center, fitness center, and daycare is that these portions of the facility will have independent sources of revenue and won’t necessarily depend on being fully funded by Sunday offerings.
“We’re a highly entrepreneurial, highly innovative church,” McPherson says. “Business, innovation, entrepreneurs, collaboration—these are values that come from being made in the image of God.”
Beyond stewarding their talents and values, Grace City aims to nurture and pass on their heritage of faith to the surrounding community first, and then the world.
“Where we come from gives us perspective on where we’re going,” McPherson says. “God’s given us a heritage of faith to steward and care for.”
Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.