For many years, First Baptist Church of Covington (FBCCOV), Louisiana was a struggling Southern Baptist church in a predominantly Catholic suburb of New Orleans. “We were established in 1904,” describes Senior Pastor Waylon Bailey, “and our church had 37 pastors in its first 44 years.” However, in the mid-1940s, the trajectory changed, and six pastors have led the church since that time, with Dr. Bailey leading for the last 30 years.
FBCCOV built their first permanent sanctuary seating 125 people in 1948, and when they outgrew that, built a second sanctuary in 1984 which seated 599. (One more seat would have dictated the expense of a sprinkler system, required by local building codes.)
By 1998, the church grew to where they needed four services to accommodate the congregation, and they chose to relocate and build a new 1,200 seat auditorium in 2001. Eventually, they once again needed four services to accommodate the growth. When they ran out of space to conduct their bible study classes, they were prompted again consider a building project to expand their educational area. “To the congregation’s credit,” adds Bailey, “they fully bought into the goal of building to reach the next generation instead of focusing on satisfying the current congregation.”
The church contracted with HH Architects of Dallas, Texas, to develop a concept to address their needs by adding a significant amount of educational space for bible study areas and children’s ministry.
“We started with a strategic analysis of the church,” states Mark Ashcraft, creative director for HH Architects. Through this process a master plan for site development is created that can be built in multiple phases as finances permit. It also enabled HH to determine Covington didn’t actually need as much educational space as the church originally thought; their needs could be met with far less. This thorough analysis enabled them to move ahead with plans for a new worship center and connection building (a community space with bookstore, coffee shop, and lots of space for people to simply spend time together) as well, instead of delaying those phases to a future time.
“The church really gave us an open pallet of creativity to explore designs for the expansion,” says Bruce Woody, president & CEO of HH Architects. “We were able to provide for a creative new hub, with addition of hospitality space that not only served the existing areas, but the newly created spaces as well. This filled a large need for open connection spaces.”
“Our church places a huge value on community and relationships,” says Bailey. “That's our DNA; it's who we are. Our existing building at that time did not facilitate this. The 25-foot wide hallways were jam-packed with people between services, and it was difficult for people to move from one area to another.”
The Connection Hub
“The connection hub addresses multiple needs of the church,” states Ashcraft. “The original building had a main entrance that faced the street, but all the parking is in the rear, so the main entrance was never used. The Connection Hub faces the parking areas and is now designed to be the primary entry to the facility. It connects to all other wings of the facility through wide corridors, as well as the original lobby which leads to the worship center. The original façade that faced the street had a cross in the structure; we took that and re-clad it in cypress wood and added it as a feature in the connection hub. It’s a very metaphorical feature—the cross makes the old new again.”
The connection hub features a highly visible welcome center, a coffee bar, and a bookstore. There’s a visual connection to the children's space, and their home point ministry for aiding families in need is now front and center. “When you come into the space you can intuitively find your way to wherever you need to go,” adds Ashcraft. “There are a lot of places for people to meet and connect. And the space is open throughout the week for the community to come and connect. Moms bring their kids to use the play space.”
“The massive glass walls that enclose this main entry face the morning sun,” Bailey describes. “As people arrive for church, the morning light is reflected off the building, creating a warm and welcoming sight as they approach.”
Likewise, the new worship center is designed with community connection in mind. Idibri, based in Dallas, Texas, was responsible for the theater, acoustics, and AVL design.
“To reinforce that sense of community,” says Casey Sherred of Idibri, “The auditorium was designed to have a deeper center thrust so the seating wraps around the front of the stage. This means those seated on the sides of the room are facing people on the opposite side and seeing faces in the congregation instead of merely the backs of people’s heads.
The raked seating in the back half of the room provides clearer site lines to both the stage and the rest of the room. Acoustic clouds are positioned over the house seating area to reflect the congregation’s singing so each other’s voices can be heard, while allowing absorptive material that is placed above these clouds to control late energy in the room.”
The lighting system features Chroma-Q Inspire LED color changing fixtures to allow the room’s lighting to be a part of the lighting design for the service and tie into the mood of the service, and additional LED color-changing fixtures are bounced off the acoustic clouds to further enhance the use of color in the service.
LED video walls from Thor make up the two side screens which are the primary information-carrying displays. An additional multi-faceted LED center screen hung from hoists is used for adding visual interest.
The church offers both a traditional-styled first service and a contemporary second service; to support both well from an environmental standpoint, the choir risers are on casters and set into a track in the stage floor. After the first service, the rear curtain is pulled, and the choir loft wheeled upstage behind the curtain line. The curtain is then closed, and the center screen lowered via the hoists to make it a more prominent feature. “The tech team can make that happen in about 15 minutes,” comments Bailey.
“A lesson we learned back in 2001 is that you can’t skimp on AVL and acoustics,” Bailey states. “You need your AVL people on board during the initial design of the building. In many ways this drove the design of the worship center building. We have an excellent audio, video, and lighting system. Idibri did a great job; we are very pleased.”
Enhancing Children’s Areas & Outdoor Spaces
For the children’s space, Dillionworks in the Seattle, WA area was brought in to create the desired themed environment. “We live in an area with a lot of live oaks, hundreds of years old. They have a deep root system established when they are young that enables them to stand through the storms. So. it is an appropriate metaphor for the theme of the education building: from acorns to oak trees.”
The placement of the buildings created three natural courtyard spaces. These add beauty, a connection to the outdoors and provide optional areas for people to gather. “The larger courtyard was designed with a water feature that is also an outdoor baptismal,” notes Woody.
The building was constructed by DonahueFavret Contractors, and the church was very pleased with their work. “The project manager for DonahueFavret,” states Bailey, “his father was a minister in a church like ours. So, he grew up in the church, and understood how things work. He scheduled work, so it would not affect our ministry/worship.”
“We felt this project was a success largely through its intentionality of design.” says Woody. “Establishing good traffic-moving spaces and wayfinding is important to helping new people feel welcome. Creating a space that’s available six days a week as a common space for community makes a statement to the community that they are welcome. Covington focuses on building community within the community through their intentional design of this building.”
“The new buildings turned out better than we ever dreamed or imagined,” summarizes Bailey.
Jim Kumorek is the owner of Spreading Flames Media, providing video production, photography and writing services. He also provides training services on theatrical lighting systems, specializing in Vista by Chroma-Q. He has been an editor for Worship Facilities Magazine, and a church technical director responsible for audio, video and lighting systems. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
--- Contractors ---
Architect: HH Architects
- Bruce Woody, AIA Principal-In-Charge
- Clay Kinney, Project Manager AIA
- Mark Ashcraft, Creative Director
- Johanna Williams, Project Architect
- Laura Nickell, Interior Designer
- Lon Braselton, Construction Administration
• LA Fuess Partners
• DFW Consulting Group
• Duplantis Design Group
• DonahueFavret Contractors