Every organization has a story about how things began, who was there, why they did what they did, and what the desired outcome or ethos of the organization was. When Grace Church moved into its facility in 1999, the church story changed. I don’t believe this was an intended outcome, but I think that the story of what the congregation said they wanted in a church was hijacked by the unspoken conveniences and unthinking habits of its members.
If you look at the building, you in fact see a story. Granted it’s not an ethos, but you see values. Here are a few themes:
- The facade. Grace Church was designed by an architect who did not have any previous church building experience. Rather they designed retail spaces. You can see the influence in the alcove’s front door. It is very inviting and welcoming. The six front doors open to a large foyer. Hopefully, this communicates a welcoming to outsiders.
- The worship center or sanctuary. The sanctuary is located below the copula, and it is the center of building. Every other classroom or space is located around the room in which we gather for worship. Worship is central to how we understand discipleship.
- We are a family. Both youth and children are not relegated to a space away from where the adults are doing the important stuff. Everyone is close. There is a problem, though.
- The Insider Entry. You can’t actually see it, but there is a door to the right beyond the first gabled end you see. This door is the door. During the week most people enter and leave through his door. In fact if you are a regular attender or member, you probably only enter through that door. This presents a problem. For one thing, during the early years of occupancy, no one opened the front doors. There were some good reasons for this, but it continued to work on the congregation that those were faux doors — the side doors were the real entrance. Though we desire to be a welcoming church, all those who are “in the know” are actually trafficked away from the newcomer who’s looking for a way to be known. Because no insider uses the foyer doors, no one is there to receive a newcomer. Because the door is a faux door, no one even thinks to be in the foyer. Sadly, newcomers are not greeted when they first arrive, and they have a sense that some gnostic higher knowledge is at work — there is a secret entrance. In effect there is — the side door.
Now, we want to be a welcoming church, but no amount of talking about it could change the system, until we could identify and speak to the incongruity of our front door image and our side door lifestyle. Once we began to think consciously about outsiders and the opportunity the foyer space presents, the system began to change and come in line with who we wanted to be and not with the story we had inherited because of convenience or habit.