Forest Park Baptist Church
Sometimes thinking outside of “the box” involves working inside the box. That is the lesson architects with Sapp Architects in Springfield, Missouri, had learned over the years. And, it was put to use once again when Forest Park Baptist Church in Carthage, a spinoff of a larger church in Joplin, set out to find a larger home for its members to worship.
Forest Park Carthage was launched in 2007 and catered to a community of about 15,000 people. The church offered members the same spirit of worship as its parent church but in a more casual and welcoming atmosphere that announced, “No perfect people allowed.”
The comfortable approach paid off with people driving from miles around to experience Forest Park Carthage’s fresh, new approach to worship. It wasn’t long before the seed church needed to expand in order to accommodate the needs of its growing congregation.
As with most church building projects, the budget was tight, which meant building a new facility from the ground up was unlikely. But finding available space that offered enough room that could be easily and affordably transformed into a church was also challenging.
Not far from the church’s current location there was an unlikely option – an old lumberyard and hardware store that had stood vacant for a few years. The location was ideal – on a main street in town not far from a Wal-Mart and Lowes (the latter of which was likely the lumber yard’s demise.) The warehouse was a big box of a building with bright graphics splattered on the exterior walls. It looked nothing like a church.
“So, that was our blank slate,” said John McNabb with Sapp Design Associates Architects. “But there was a lot of potential.”
The award-winning design firm had worked with Forest Park’s Joplin campus on previous building projects. However, the firm had also designed several church renovation projects involving former “big box” warehouse spaces. They could easily see how the space could be transformed.
The old lumberyard offered about 45,000 square feet – enough space to carve out worship space, a children’s area, classrooms and gathering space. Plus, plenty of the square footage could be left somewhat untouched and waiting for future expansion.
The first challenge was to make the building not look like an old metal warehouse, but a contemporary, welcoming space. When it functioned as a lumberyard, the main entrance was set along the side of the building, which allowed plenty of drive-through space for picking up large lumber loads. But the side entrance didn’t offer much street impact for a church.
“It didn’t make sense to keep that as the front,” said architect Steve Telscher. “So we moved the focus to the corner to address both aspects.”
It was a tough sell for the owners, who thought the side entrance looked more prominent than anything that could be added to the corner of the church. But architects assured church leadership that with careful use of paint, graphics and angles, there would be no doubt where the front entrance of the church was.
Architects framed the new corner entrance with tall glass doors and windows, and then drew the eye in with dynamic angles highlighted with different shades of paint, which also helped camouflage the “warehouse-like” metal stud framing.
Inside, the space would be transformed, as well. About half of the space was put to use, including a black box theater-style worship space that was placed at the heart of the facility. The space provides seating for 470and also includes a raised platform at the front and center.
The church also had a thriving community of children and youth, thus space was provided for a children’s area called “Kid’s City.” The area also has classrooms, as well as a Kid’s Cinema, which seats 100 children. The youth, children and worship spaces connect along a linear lobby, which features a café and comfortable seating for fellowship.
The other 42,000 square feet was left untouched for future growth.
Church leadership wanted the interior space to look comfortable and clean, but also didn’t want to hide any minor flaws that gave the space character, playing off the church’s motto.
"We embraced that same design approach, leaving the minor imperfections in the floors, walls, & ceiling. All of these elements came together to create a comfortable worship experience,” Telscher said.
It took just over a half a year for the project to be completed, but when the membership officially moved in at the end of 2012, it was almost impossible to believe the space had once been a big box warehouse.
“It’s always fun to take these facilities and give them new life after they have served a life already. It’s cool, especially when it’s a church facility,” Telscher said. “Now you drive by and see families using the space, and they’re having a good time. That’s the real fun part.”
Sapp Design Associates Architects, based in Springfield, Missouri, seeks to be the catalyst for its clients’ vision by simply embracing the culture and ideas of the organizations it serves, www.sdaarchitects.com.