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Pocono Community Church - Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The members of the newly formed Pocono Community Church in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, were in a quandary. They were well on their way to building their first-ever church building – they had land, it was largely prepared for construction, and they had building plans purchased from a reputable design/build company. The problem was that the traditional church building depicted in the plans lacked the kind of spirit members of Pocono Community Church wanted to portray. While grounded in Christian faith, the church was far from traditional. Just read the church’s welcome on its Web site: “We are a church for regular people looking for a place to explore faith in Jesus without losing their minds or sense of humor.”

Church leadership needed guidance, and they found it through Greg A. Marquart at Capstone Resources Inc., a building coach that helps churches identify their needs by creating a vision plan. For Pocono Community Church, that plan included organizing a team to help build its dream. That team would consist not only of church members but also representatives from companies the church would be dealing with through the process, such as the mortgage company, the contractor, and the architect. Finding these team members involved a series of interviews.

W. Michael Campbell AIA, was selected as the architect for the project. This wasn’t the first time Campbell was pulled into a project after the initial plans were drawn.

“For whatever reason, it seems like for most of my projects I have been coming in as the second or third consultant after other arrangements with architects or design/build companies haven’t worked out,” he said. “Of course, we would like to be called first, but I think our technical and people skills make us well-suited to the task of getting these projects successfully completed.”

The first order of business for Campbell was to get the project back on track. Time and budget were strong considerations. The church, which was renting space in a local high school, had lost time with its previous contract, and church leadership worried that a longer lapse before construction would hamper its fundraising efforts and hurt the momentum of membership growth.

The church’s needs were simple—build a church that could seat 800 people in a relaxed and comfortable auditorium-type setting. The design would also have to plan for future phases as the church grew stronger in numbers. Campbell trimmed about 2,000 square feet from the original 30,000-square-foot design and worked within the footprint that was already laid out in the original plans to develop the design.

“The church reaches out to a lot of unchurched people and therefore wanted a design that would be welcoming and unintimidating to people who may have never entered a church before and might be put off by a more traditional looking church,” Campbell said.

To establish the non-traditional “feel” church leadership wanted to convey, Campbell designed the building to look less like a church and more like a lodge that one is likely to see in the popular recreational destination where the church was located in the Pocono Mountains.

The basic structure of the building was a prefabricated steel building, which helped keep construction costs reasonable for the area at about $137 per square foot. The steel frame was covered with a façade of masonry block in warm colors on one side, glass on the other, and an inviting entrance custom made by an Amish crew with a timber structure on top of stone piers. The main entrance doors were automatic sliders, opening to a very large foyer area with a modern linear fireplace and a Starbucks-type coffee shop with counter-height tables and stools.

To further carry out the casual feel, the concrete floor received a stained and polished finish similar to what is seen in a lot of newer coffee shops. Ceiling structure and spiral ductwork was left exposed and painted.

“What were primarily budget considerations for the interior were turned into positive design elements,” Campbell said.

The auditorium was also designed with that same contemporary flair with exposed ceilings and ductwork but with carpet for comfort. A stage provides plenty of room for worship service and various Christian music and drama events. The bulk of the budget in the auditorium was dedicated to a very high-end light and sound system.

While Campbell was busy developing the design, the rest of the church’s building team set to work getting necessary approvals from the city. By late 2008, construction was underway. About eight months later, by early spring of 2009, the building was completed.

Pocono Community Church is now fully operational, and the members are thrilled with their new church home. And so is the community. In addition to serving the church, the foyer/coffee shop area is a stop for New York City commuters who use the church parking lot to carpool.

The building also represents what the church deeply wanted to convey to the community, which is that everyone is welcome. Since it began its road to construction, the membership has grown from about 500-600 to more than 1,200.

W Michael Campbell, based in Farmingdale, New Jersey, started in 1989. Since then, Michael Campbell has worked exclusively with churches and other Christian organizations in designing new buildings as well as restoring, renovating or adding onto existing buildings throughout the United States, www.ReligiousArchitecture.com. Capstone Resources, Inc. is a church building coach that exists to be the first in order of team members assembled for church building projects, www.SimplyCapstone.com.

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