By Mel McGowan
I once lived the American dream . . . the one with the big house, the big car, and the big mortgage.
To afford my slice of the “American pie,” I lived as if I were in the movie Groundhog Day. I pulled out of the driveway at the same time each day. I commuted to work at least an hour each way, barely making it home in time to tuck in my youngest child at night and rarely in time to have dinner with the whole family. Day after day after day.
I spoke to my next-door neighbor once a year. The elementary school located nearby was shut down, so my son had to be driven several miles to the next school. I attended the same church where I became a Christian, but it had long since given up its Main Street address to relocate to 40 acres of agricultural land on the periphery of the city.
I realize this sounds like a “glass half-empty” description, but, in fact, having grown up in urban flats, apartments, and townhomes in Europe and Asia, I felt blessed to have a home like this for my family. Still, something was missing from my American dream. I have come to understand that “something” was a God-wired hunger for community.
Pop duo MKTO (“Misfit Kids and Total Outcasts”) expresses shifts in ideals in their 2014 hit song “American Dream.” Some of the lyrics: “We don’t want two kids and a wife, I don’t want a job, I just want a life” and “You know that nothing is the way it used to be, so tell me, whatever happened to the American dream?”
‘Something Was Missing’
LifePointe Christian Church in Elk Grove, California, knows there is more to life than the American dream. People at LCC were struggling. Some worked multiple jobs to keep up with the payments on that dream house and their cars. Others were trying to keep their marriage together. Kids were struggling with bullying, depression, and addictions. To an outsider, things might have looked great, but behind closed doors, things were tough. Life, perhaps, was a bit better for some of LifePointe’s people and visitors, but most weren’t truly happy. Something was missing.
So instead of striving for an “American ideal,” LifePointe wanted to point people to Jesus, the One who offers true, everlasting joy.
LifePointe asked PlainJoe Studios for our help in clearly communicating all of this. The church was moving from an elementary school building they had been meeting in to a building and campus that had been a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership. They wanted a fresh, new brand and engaging environments for adults and kids that would tell the LifePointe story. At PlainJoe, we refer to this as Spatial Storytelling.
Our team sat down with them and came up with a “big idea.” LifePointe wants their people to “live life beyond” and discover together that there is more to life than how it is typically experienced. There is life beyond the daily grind of going to work and living paycheck to paycheck.
A Sense of Family
LifePointe articulated what a lot of churches know but don’t always say: Women will go to church before men will. The church decided to address that by branding in a manner that would appeal to a young, outdoorsy, REI-type male. Blue and orange were added to the church logo. Wood, silver metal, and natural imagery were added throughout the church. The Sacramento area is known for its mining, which fit well with the outdoors theme, so we incorporated that into their environments. We had fun creating Discovery Mill for LifePointe Kids, where kids and students learn about Jesus in a unique, imaginative space that have them begging their parents to bring them back.
“What I love most about LifePointe is their relentless focus on being a family, both through the various life groups or community groups that occur in homes throughout the week and in the gathering of the church body on Sunday,” said Blake Ryan of PlainJoe Studios. “They are determined to make sure no one is going through life alone; and because of this, their organization embodies this sense that we are your family, and your home is here. I’ve seen this and experienced it firsthand.”
Too many people are pulling out of their driveways at the same time every morning and heading out to chase the American dream. But why live in a dream world that never completely satisfies when you can “live life beyond”? And to those who need a place to belong, to refresh, to grow, and to find fulfillment in Jesus, LifePointe says, “Come on in! Home is here.”
Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.