Community-Facing Church Design

How a practical building infused with story won a neighborhood and earned approval in a city with tight building restrictions.

What do you do when you are a church with limited land, city constraints and budget pressures, yet you've outgrown your facilities and need to build something larger?

Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch, CA faced exactly those problems.

The church owns a long narrow strip of land which faces a busy street—across from a large commercial retail center—located in a bedroom community in the northwest region of Los Angeles. The church knew the city approval process would be tight and that they needed to be able to build something functional and high-capacity within a limited budget.

With over 10,000 people coming on a weekend, their existing 1,500-seat worship auditorium was not enough. And while the church had worked on a design for a larger space previously, it wound up being substantially over budget, and not the right fit for the church nor the community.


"One of our big concerns," explains Executive Pastor, Tim Winters, "was getting city approval for what we wanted to build." Porter Ranch is in the San Fernando Valley and while it's technically part of Los Angeles, the neighborhood maintains its natural beauty and feels like a quiet community. The city council works hard to ensure the community keeps the character that the residents love.

"When we went before the city to present our building plan for approval, we watched the city commissioner turn down the person right before us, swiftly and matter-of-factly," says Winters. "When we presented our plan, the commissioner explained that when she moved to Porter
Ranch ten years before, she struggled to find a place to hold a series of community meetings in the area, and we had allowed her to meet in our building. She told us from the time we had opened our doors, we'd been sharing our building with the fire department, police department, homeowners' groups and the community. So, she enthusiastically approved our plan!"

"We just want to be here in the community," says Winters. "We are right in the center of Porter Ranch which makes our church a perfect place for big needs. We serve thousands each weekend in our services, so we have skill in serving large groups of people. In 2008 we opened our facility as an evacuation center and during the Sesnon fires we had over 1,500 people staying at our Church. Officials were amazed at how well we managed that process, and it gave us unexpected favor with the city and community."


Visioneering and PlainJoe Studios worked with the church to ensure the campus tells their story.

"Our mission is pretty simple," shares Winters, "To lift up Christ. Everything is viewed through that lens. It's a very uncomplicated thing."

The church's site is very longon only 14 acres. The narrow layout would have to guide families past the worship center all the way across a courtyard to the children’s building. "As we got into Shepherd’s heart a little bit more, and what they’re doing, the style became a little bit more of an early California craftsman type-look.

Lead pastor, Dudley Rutherford, was influenced by the idea of open lanais in Hawaii, so we created a main front porch that connects the front of the site. It’s windy there and pretty sunny and hot during the summer, so shade was important.

One of the big things that they always had in mind was this idea of a prayer tower, to provide a place for people to see and pray for the entire valley. We ended up repositioning the prayer tower, rising it up above the parapet of the main 3,500 seat auditorium in order that people could pray looking out in all directions of the compass," explains Bob Bergmann of Visioneering Studios.

"We have a powerful prayer ministry" Winters adds, "and we wanted people praying for community and the entire city of Los Angeles, including Hollywood from that tower. We believe if you can change Hollywood, you can change the world. We have a heart for that industry."
Looking down from the tower, you can see concentric circles which are built into the design of the campus and carved into concrete that underlies the courtyard. It shows the ripple effect of the prayers going out from the tower.

"We tried to create an open feeling throughout the building and the entire campus", highlights Winters, "so that when you drive by, you see all the activities going on and perhaps want to come and check it out."

On the courtyard, there are 12 pillars with a flame on top that stay lit each evening. One side of the pillars lists the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and on the other side, the names of the 12 disciples. It's a learning opportunity for families as they walk the length of the campus.
The courtyard also contains outdoor seating areas and firepits.

There is a café that is open and inviting to the community even when there are no events taking place. "People are raving about the food," says Winters. "We are thankful for an amazing chef. The café is for the community just to let them know we are here for them."


"Intimacy at the higher seat count was important to us," offers Winters. "The design features steeply raked stadium seating at the back to draw people close to the stage."

Winters also explains that there is a huge HD LED wall behind the senior pastor.

"The screen has to be part of everything we do," continues Winters. "It gives us lots of flexibility in creating new looks for the stage, and it has stretched us creatively as well. We've had to be pretty imaginative with our stage design since it is filmed for broadcast and our three satellite campuses. Clark ProMedia did a great job with our technology. All of our production offices and suites are under the raised seats which helped us maximize the use of the space."

Moving from 1,500 seats to 3,500 has given the church much more breathing room when it comes to accommodating 10,000 people each weekend.

Winters explains, "Mel McGowan from PlainJoe led us through Disney's unique BlueSky discovery process as we started this project. During that process we discovered this area had a unique tie to the early roots of the Hollywood film industry, It was the location of historic movie ranches and the setting of classic Western movies."

With those roots we want to continue to have an influence with Hollywood, Los Angeles, and the world. So, we have built this amazing worship facility above the San Fernando valley looking down toward Hollywood and Los Angeles. From here we want to be a light pointing to the "True North" which is God's word, and to Lift up Christ that all might believe" concludes Winters.

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