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Design Attracts the Un-churched: Preston Trails Community Church

Colored carpet pathways, bold campus signageboth inside and out, a newcomer-oriented website and an abundance of glass walls, are just a few of the ways Preston Trails Community Church is helping peoplenot familiar with churches, feel expected and accepted.

It Began with a Friendship

Located in Frisco, Texas, and serving all of North Dallas, Preston Trail began as the vision of longtime friends and Preston Trail's senior pastors, Jim Johnson and Paul Basden. After years in independent ministry, Johnson and Basden teamed up to fulfill their shared visiona church committed to the un-churched.

In 2002, Johnson and Basden began researching potential sites. Possibilities included Austin and the Research Triangle, but ultimately Frisco, in the North Dallas corridor, was chosen because of its explosive growth and high percentage of young families.

"Johnson and Basden came with no money, no building, and really started out with a family-oriented ministry instead of traditional services," says Dennis Richards, Preston Trail's Executive Pastor. The ministry was called Dude Ranch, a weekly production with branded characters playing Biblical roles. "The idea was to minister to kids first and then families," recalls Richards.

All of this took place at the AMC Theater in Stonebrier Mall in Frisco, where the church spent its first four years and grew to 200 attendees. In 2006, Preston Trail purchased an interim building and in just six months grew from 200 to 600. The space was 45,000 square feet with only 100 parking spaces. "With three Sunday services and year-over-year growth at over 25 percent, Preston Trail was quickly exceeding capacity with nowhere to expand," says Scott Nelson, AIA LEED AP, principal with Dallas-based HH Architects.

"[It was] strictly a capacity issuewe had kids meeting in hallways on Sundays. We were using every square inch," says Richards.

Johnson and Basden's vision always included a master-planned campus and in 2010, leadership purchased 35 acres on which to build it. In 2011, upon paying off the property, Preston Trail hired HH Architects and began planning its permanent home. Ground broke on the first phase in 2012, and the new facility opened in the fall of 2014 with 2,000 people attending. By Easter of 2015, weekly attendance had grown to 3,000.

An Inviting Design

The campus design is literally and figuratively formed around the church's motto, "Accepted & Expected."

"Our website is our real front door," says Richards. "It tells people we expect them to be there, we've planned for them to be there, and we've been intentional about inviting them onto our campus."

Preston Trail's inviting brand carries over to the entire facility, and the experience of feeling invited starts before one is even on the property.

"They wanted the front door to be seen from the road and to have a high level of transparency throughout the campus," says Nelson. "There are no iconic' church design elements that would let the average passerby identify this building as a church, rather it was important to church leadership to design a building that was welcoming and non-threatening to the un-churched."

Natural Elements

To accomplish that non-threatening and transparent aesthetic, large glass walls and an abundance of wood, stone and other natural materials were used on the exterior of the building. Porch-like overhangs top the doors that feed into the central lobby space, which is the heart of the campus.

Preston Trail also wanted to embrace the outdoors. According to Jimmy Winkler, project director with general contractor, Rogers-O'Brien Construction, a tree line bisecting the site was maintained and now lines the entry drive and leads directly to the main door of the lobby. The church also allocated property to be used by the city of Frisco as part of its hike/bike trail system.

At the end of the tree-lined drive, the front drop-off area is defined by a large plaza that uses landscape boulders to protect pedestrians from vehicles and includes 11,000 square feet of lawn area for special events.

Abundant Signage & Bright Colors

Inside, the lobby is wide open with abundant signage and bright colors (more than 60 paint colors were used throughout the facility). A café, guest resource center, and four glass-walled atriums for gathering and discipleship classes are among the functions. "We previously didn't have a central gathering space for our adults. The lobby provides a lot of circulation space. People don't feel they have to rush away after service," says Richards.

Adult worship, children's and student ministries, and all other programming areas are also accessed from the lobby. "You can see everything from the central lobbythere is no need to guess," adds Cindy Fiala, Preston Trail's Family Ministry Pastor. "Everybody can see where everybody goes."

Main Worship Area plus 3

The main worship center is one of four worship venues on the campus. "Rather than developing one large venue, the church elected to develop multiple venues for all ages," says Nelson. Therefore the worship space has 1,500 seats, 750 of which are non-fixed on a flat floor, making this daily-used space a flexible one. Youth, elementary and preschool venues seat an additional 300, 250 and 200, respectively. These venues are non-themed and not just used on Sundays, but also throughout the week.

Young at Heart

In the very center of the lobby space is a soft play area for Preston Trail's smallest members. It is surrounded by a clear wall and tables and chairs, allowing parents to visit with friends and keep an eye on little ones. The feature is also visible from the road. "Moms see it and call and ask if they can schedule birthday parties," shares Fiala. "What a blessing to be the place that people just want to hang out in during the week!"

The children's ministries are collectively called, TrailKids. The logo is displayed in silver tiles on a glass wall that begins outside and finishes inside. At night the logo is illuminated for the world to see.

The church utilizes Fellowship One for child check-in. There are ten self-serve, but staffed, kiosks utilizing swipe cards throughout the lobby and a staffed counter for first-time guests. Once inside the main TrailKids entrance, carpet tiles in colors corresponding with classroom blocks lead the way for parents and kids.

Ages five and under go to The Backyard, a space themed with picket fences, lots of color, and multi-sensory tactile elements. "We wanted to bring the outside in, and where do kids love to be outside? In their backyard," says Fiala. "We didn't want it to look like every other typical church, but whimsical and like a kids' museum."

Upstairs is The Loft for Kindergarten through fifth grade. "It's sort of an Urban Outfitters for kids," says Fiala. Wood palettes, lights made of repurposed bicycle wheels, and bright orange, purple and chartreuse define this space.

Middle and high school students have a separate entrance to their branded area, The Rail. This 9,000 square-foot space has the aesthetic of an industrial hangar and is broken into two distinct areasthe 300-seat worship space and a hangout space with a gaming area, lounge and homework bar. Floor-to-ceiling windows connect students with the outdoors and polished concrete floors are both durable and add to the industrial urbaneness.

For administrative space, a different approach was taken. "[The church] couldn't afford a fully built-out space, so instead of a lot of offices, we designed an open workspace that is first-come first-served," says Nelson.

At every turn it is evident that inclusion was Preston Trail's goal, and now, a building born out of relationship will grow through building relationships, too. 

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