March 15, 2016
What makes your church your church? The distinctive elements within your building that tell the story of who you are as a faith community? These are the questions that Kevin Miller, Vice President of Resource Development at Christianity Today and Associate Pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, explores in the video series, “Telling Your Church’s Unique Story.”
Miller shares insights he gleaned from his own experience leading his church through a major adaptive reuse building project. After placing the winning bid for an abandoned plastics factory that had gone to auction, his church had to decide how to transform an industrial steel and glass structure into ministry space that would resonate with their Anglican congregation.
Miller covers the process his church underwent in determining what their church’s story is and how they could use this new space to convey their mission, vision, and values authentically. For Miller, his church’s building project helped him discern three key elements that must be considered in order to clearly communicate your church’s unique story within its physical space.
Church of the Resurrection loves their congregation, the performing arts, children’s services, and leading people back to Christ. But Miller says that it’s essential to differentiate those loves from the church’s greatest love.
For Church of the Resurrection, Miller says that worship is their greatest love. During their build process, most of the money, time, and resources went into designing a spectacular worship center while creating functional children’s areas, lobby spaces, and other office and classroom areas of the church. By investing in one key space—the sanctuary—Church of the Resurrection tells the story of a worship-centric church.
Understanding the significance of a church’s location is every bit as important, if not more so, then the built space itself. For example, Church of the Resurrection is an Anglican Church based in the suburbs of Chicago. The church’s steel and glass structure fits well within the context of Chicago architecture, but initially Miller says it felt at odds with the high church culture of the Anglican Church. Ultimately, Church of the Resurrection opted to embrace both realities—their church’s alignment with Chicago architecture, and interior design elements, especially in the sanctuary, that help to create the liturgical, sacred feel associated with Anglican churches. According to Miller, every church needs to determine the context in which they are located and the spiritual needs of the congregation. What worked at Church of the Resurrection wouldn’t be the right solution for another church in a different location.
3. Lessons Learned
Every church body has a history of victories and fall-outs that shape a church’s story. For example, Church of the Resurrection is a successful, thriving church today. Early in the church’s history, however, there was a fairly public and heated argument between a few staff members, which led to a painful break in the church. According to Miller, the conflict wasn’t handled well, and there was a lot of pain within the church body.
While it’s easier to sweep a history like this under the rug, push it into the far corners of the room, or remove it from the world entirely, Church of the Resurrection took a different approach and embraced the pain. Rather than hiding the split from members and new staff, the church focuses church membership classes on reconciliation, conflict resolution, and healthy relationship building—lessons the church itself learned from this painful part of their story. According to Miller, learning from these lessons, putting them on display, and encouraging a different future is a key way to tell your church’s unique story.
What are the loves, location, and lessons learned at your church? How might you communicate these within your church building? Check out Kevin Miller’s video series.
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Kevin Miller currently serves as Vice President of Resource Development at Christianity Today, and he continues in his role as Associate Pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.