While once cutting-edge, today's third places are an established element in modern church design. They've become central in bringing vibrancy and, perhaps now more than ever, play a vital role in a church's ability to promote community-mindedness among attendees as well as connection with the physical community surrounding it.
A "third place" is a social environment that isn't home and isn't work. It's a place for connecting with and building community which, incidentally, is the vision Milestone Church had for its new permanent facility on 54.5 acres in Keller, Texasfortuitously acquired through negotiations with a residential developer.
"[Milestone] conceived this idea of its church being an extension of the community it's serving," says Stephen Pickard, principal and director of the Church Works Studio of Dallas-based GFF, Milestone's architect. "This is not the old model of the church as an island."
Established in 2002 by Pastor Jeff Little and 32 people, Milestone now has two campuses welcoming more than 5,000 attendees every weekend. Milestone's mission of "Reaching People. Building Lives" was at the center of the project, according to Executive Pastor Jeff Pelletier, as were goals involving location, community space, expandable worship space and children's space.
Location, Location, Location
Milestone focused its property search in Keller due to the area's explosive growth. "Within a 7-mile radius of our property, we've seen 86 percent growth in the last 12 years, projected to be another 22 percent in the next five years," says Pelletier.
The acreage Milestone purchased is highly visible and accessible, and running through it is a gas line easement converted to a hike and bike trail by the City of Kellerserving to further diminish the barriers between Milestone and the community.
"This has been an incredible amenity that allows us to serve the active families in the surrounding neighborhoods," says Pelletier.
PROJECT DUE DILIGENCE
Goff Companies, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, started working with Milestone Church in November of 2012, to help develop a strategic plan for the church’s expansion after Milestone’s tremendous attendance growth saturated their existing church facility.
Tanner Goff, president of Goff Companies recalls, “They [Milestone] understood the facility was at the heart of the matter of slowing attendance growth, but their next step to correct the situation was unclear. In January 2013, we came alongside Milestone and completed our proprietary STEP 1 process to access facility expansion (S.A.F.E.). Our assessed recommendation was to relocate. They had no additional space for worship seats, no space for children, and no available parking spaces. And more importantly, no land was available for purchase directly adjacent to the existing facility.”
Goff Companies assisted Milestone’s lead pastor Jeff Little who’s vision was to stay within Keller’s city limits. Milestone Church and Goff Companies continued their partnership with the goal of finding a tract of land large enough to accommodate church growth well into the future. A 53-acre parcel, owned by a residential developer, was located.
Goff explains, “It was entangled in many land entitlement, oil, gas and future permitting issues. After 10 months of hard negotiations with the developer, city and financial lenders, we were successful in eliminating all obstacles. Construction started in December 1, 2015 with a contract completion date of May 25, 2017. We made a massive push to obtain building occupancy for Easter weekend. The first service was scheduled as a soft opening on Thursday, April 13, 2017 with multiple services schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Attendees were overwhelmed with emotion during the services—it was a great celebration and Easter for Milestone Church.”
Defined by Community
The trail heavily influenced the orientation of Milestone's building and is visible and accessible from the 11,000 square-foot commons area that includes a coffee shop and café seating, outdoor terrace and an indoor playscape for kids.
The outdoor seating creates a park-like environment, and inside is much more than a self-serve coffee bar.
"This is a sizable coffee service center, not just a station," says Emily Mendez, interior designer with GFF. "We wanted the ability for this [space] to grow and be a real third place."
The café is furnished with high-top tables, a large picnic style common table, and a variety of soft seating arrangements all within view of the children's check-in and Playzone, the indoor playscape that is open to the public and used by families before and after worship services.
"One thing we're interested in promoting is family gathering spaces. We want to integrate adult and kid spaces inside and outplaces for kid play, youth and adultsa large shared environment," says Pickard.
The commons can serve as large event space and is equipped to accommodate catering service, too. "It's a very multiuse space," says Mendez.
This space was designed to expand in tandem with the worship spacea testament to Milestone's dedication to building community 24/7 and not just during a few hours on the weekends.
"The commons is open to the public during the week, and we've seen everything from small group meetings to folks that work remotely to those just hanging out and socializing," says Pelletier. "it's an ideal place to connect with family, friends and co-workers."
The church also asked for easily expandable worship space and GFF responded with a 1,606-seat sloped-floor sanctuary designed to expand to 2,500 seats "by removing the back temporary wall, as opposed to building a new structure," says Pickard. "The volume for expansion is already there."
"The room feels properly sized for the congregation nowit doesn't feel empty, but as Milestone grows it can expand in a simpler, cost-effective manner," says Mendez.
The children's area is spacious and secure and located off the commons. It includes 16 classrooms and three large group auditoriums. Ultimately, the current space will be dedicated to early childhood as elementary and older students will move to a new education building slated for completion in a future phase of Milestone's master plan.
Though it may sound like no expense was spared, Milestone and GFF took a judicious approach to costs, which was actually aided by the focus on community.
"We designed to be less about the material and more about the environment and experience," says Pickard.
To avoid placing the building in a sea of asphalt, GFF laid out the parking on just two sides. It means a slightly longer walk for some, but protected views of nature from the inside.
Stepping through the main entrance, guests and attendees are guided into the commons area and greeted by expansive views to the outdoorsthe terrace, trail and woods beyond. From this same vantage point, the sanctuary, guest suite, children's check-in, playscape and volunteer room are all visible.
The interior finishes are neutral and warm and were selected to take a beating. The flooring is polished or stained concrete throughout, save the aisles of the sanctuary, which were carpeted for noise mitigation. Wood and stone elements were utilized in some high-traffic areas and to tie into the exterior design where oversized stone blocks mark the main entrance.
"[This was] a statement of permanence in our community," says Pelletier.
"We wanted casual, welcoming and cost-effective with a Texas, regional feel," adds Mendez.
The building itself was constructed using tilt-wall concrete, a cost-effective yet quality material, according to Pickard. GFF then took an innovative approach in finishing the concrete panels. As opposed to painting them, which would have to be redone every few years at some expense, the concrete was stained and sandblasted and form liners were added to create texture.
Back inside, the concrete was left unfinished except in areas where wood was applied as part of the design.
"We wanted a comfortable, contemporary and timeless interior and exterior space with durable materials, so we used this combination of stained wood, natural stone, exposed steel, glass and concrete," says Pelletier.
Another sensible design decision was converting the perimeter of additional volume surrounding the sanctuary's height into a second floor now used as administrative space.
"It wasn't free, but it was economical," says Pickard. "We captured space within the volume we were already building."
On the Horizon
In addition to expanding the sanctuary, commons and children's spaces, Milestone's master plan calls for a multistory building to serve a variety of ministry purposes. Leadership has also discussed building a chapel, youth building, and recreational areas for activities such as volleyball and basketball, which would no doubt be open to the public.
"Our mission is to continue reaching people and building lives; to make space for more people to meet Jesus; to train up the next generation, and launch leaders, missionaries, pastors and churches," says Pelletier.
The Keller Campus is definitely a tool for doing so.