Mountain House
Mountain House

This architectural plan reflects the personality and mission of Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada.


By Mel McGowan

Just north of Reno, between the flash of casinos and the vast Nevada wilderness, you’ll find a community where economic booms and busts come with the territory, and people are desperate for a higher view and solid ground.

Summit Christian Church of Sparks, Nevada, endeavors to provide these things.

Desert Roots

Nineteen years ago, a determined group of people in love with Jesus put down roots in the Truckee Meadows. They weathered the region’s economic growth and collapse in the same way they endured the blustery winds and rapidly changing temperatures of this often-overlooked part of the map.

They persevered because people matter.

One of the things we noticed right away is the level of brokenness in this community,” said Steve Bond, one of Summit’s lead pastors. “The need for the grace and restoration of Christ is particularly acute, and that message resonates for people.”

Today, the Reno area is experiencing another rapid economic expansion. Families are pouring in faster than homes can be built.

One city council member told us that 8,000 new homes are being built within three to four miles of the church. To a church that is so passionate about loving the community, this boon presents an exciting opportunity—and a pressing problem.

Leveraged to the Hilt

The leaders at Summit Christian recognize they have a space problem. “We have 32,000 square feet,” Bond said, “and it’s leveraged to the hilt.” The church sees weekend attendance of about 2,200 with very little margin for visitors or elbow room.

“We’re probably the largest church in America with only one men’s stall available,” laughed Bond, referencing the ever-present line for the men’s room.

But the lack of space is no laughing matter. The people are coming, and the church has been working to create space to welcome and serve them.

“The number one need we’re seeking to fulfill is seats [so we can] tell people about Jesus, because people are pouring in.”

Along the way, Summit’s leadership team encountered several significant budgetary roadblocks that threatened the project, even halting it completely for a time. After more than three years of work, the church had roadways and a level building pad ready for construction, but they still had no new seats to offer the community.

Undeterred, the pastors and elders sought alternative solutions that would turn the roadblocks into stepping stones toward achieving their goals.


Fresh Start

Church leaders realized they needed something to reinvigorate the project—a “big idea” that would unite the efforts of the designers, builders, and the congregation, who would ultimately use the campus for kingdom purposes.

When Summit reached out to my team at PlainJoe Studios, I was excited. Not only did the architectural needs offer a unique challenge, but the people, place, and culture of northern Nevada presented an opportunity to put our creativity to the test.

“Our job during the discovery phase is to be good listeners,” said Tim Cruz, the architectural development manager assigned to the Summit project. “We need to listen well, to understand their needs, and reconcile their needs and priorities within the budget limitations.”

We took them through an intensive brainstorming process to help identify the story they want to tell in the community. We challenged them to articulate who they are as a church today and who they want to become.

The process led to a new statement of purpose that will guide every construction decision moving forward:

Mountain House—At the edge of the Sierras and the high desert, visitors come alive when they are warmed around a loving circle of fire and welcomed into the Lord’s Mountain House where relatable truth leads to impactful transformation in the Truckee Meadows and beyond.

With Summit’s big idea firmly in place, our team of Spatial Storytellers created a brand-new architectural plan that reflects the personality and mission of the church . . . and meets their pressing need for space.


The Great Outdoors

Truckee Meadows is adjacent to the majestic Sierras and provides incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation. So Summit’s design theme took on a rugged, trailhead aesthetic. With colors, materials, and textures like those you might find in an REI store, the environment is sure to spark a sense of fun and adventure for kids and adults alike.



Summit recognized that confining people to hallways often prevents them from stopping to build relationship. Rather than constructing a series of tunnel-like paths from building to building, plans call for covered walkways facing into a dramatic center courtyard. By blurring the line between indoors and outdoors, the design facilitates movement while allowing for spontaneous and meaningful interaction.

Room to Grow

Of course, Summit’s most important goal is to create opportunities to welcome their community’s growing population. The new design includes a 1,000-seat auditorium (and plenty of restrooms) to accommodate the expected newcomers. The auditorium is designed to expand to 1,500 seats when they reach capacity again.

“The thing that sets this place apart is it’s just so doggone loving,” said Bond, describing comments he’s heard from people new to the church. They say, “I’ve poked around in a lot of places, but there’s just nowhere like this place.”

As they build their “Mountain House,” Summit’s prayer is that the architecture of their church will be reflective of the heart of its people and enable them to love and connect even more deeply with the community they serve.


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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