Posted in practice on September 30, 2015 12:33 pm EDT

Satellite Campus Design: Opportunity & Complexity

The multisite movement offers a bit of both for architects and church leaders alike.

Savannah Christian Church’s new satellite campus in Statesboro, Ga., will feature a 1,200-seat worship center, new ministry spaces, and an outdoor amphitheater. Rendering courtesy of LS3P.











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TAGS: business, design, multisite, sustainability,


By Chuck Hulstrand

In the age-old model of “doing church,” a congregation forms, builds a sanctuary, and then stays put. For churches with rapidly growing congregations, however, a new church model is quickly gaining ground: the satellite campus. A satellite campus can welcome more worshippers, provide opportunities for shared resources, and bring the scale of a large church down to a more personal level. On the flip side, multiple sites can strain budgets and create additional work for church leaders. When considering this approach, a congregation must weigh all the relevant factors, and be clear about its goals, vision, mission, and values from the outset.

"Satellite campuses provide exciting design opportunities, and can be a fantastic solution for churches [that] are ready to expand their footprint and develop new ministries."

—Mel Middleton, AIA, Architect, LS3P Worship Studio, Greenville, SC

Once the decision is made, though, the real fun of design begins. The team should start with foundational questions: how will the church maintain a unified identity while allowing each individual campus to develop its own personality? What alternative worship environments will accommodate a diverse audience and a variety of worship styles? Can the new worship center be comfortable and welcoming but still make room for a sense of awe? How will the church stay connected in worship?

The digital age makes genuine connection easier than ever before. Weekly sermons may be broadcast live to each campus from a central location, or recorded and broadcast throughout the week. Embracing a new type of worship experience, many churches are broadcasting services on large screens in relaxed campus cafés. Churches are also experimenting with outdoor seating areas, fire pits, water features, nature paths, bookstores, and prayer walks. Many congregations prefer an edgy atmosphere, with spaces which don’t look like “church.” These nontraditional spaces create engaging environments for members to gather, relax, and worship at the same time.

Case Study: Savannah Christian Church

As an architect in LS3P’s Worship Studio in Greenville, S.C., Mel Middleton, AIA, is well versed in the complexities of satellite campus design. “Satellite campuses provide exciting design opportunities, and can be a fantastic solution for churches [that] are ready to expand their footprint and develop new ministries,” she says. Middleton is currently working on several LS3P design projects for Savannah Christian Church. Founded in 1964 in Savannah, Ga., with 149 members, the church has grown to more than 8,000 in attendance across five campuses. Live sermons are taped each Wednesday at the 1,300-seat worship center at the Henderson campus for broadcast at multiple services and locations. Campus pastors host the services at each satellite location.

The church’s most recent project, a new campus in Statesboro, Ga., features a 400-seat worship center with green room, decision room, children’s ministry spaces, and large outdoor gathering areas. Future phases of the LS3P-designed master plan include a 1,200-seat worship center and outdoor amphitheater. Like most construction projects, this one has provided a few surprises; an excavated borrow pit on the site was unexpectedly reclassified as a wetland, necessitating a few changes, expenses, and delays. Middleton stresses the importance of the due diligence phase to uncover site or zoning issues as early as possible. “If conditional use permits will be required, it is critical to begin the application process early, as meetings with planning boards can take several months,” she tells us. Other site issues, such as adjacent residential neighborhoods, will impact design details such as acoustical control and adequate parking and circulation in order to maintain “good neighbor” status.

Close collaboration with the church’s team has been a key factor in project success thus far. The design began with an intensive “canvas session” to engage the church, allow for critical conversations about long-term vision, determine programmatic functions, identify project goals, and discuss budgetary parameters. The resulting information became the foundation for an effective future campus master plan for all church programs. Savannah Christian also has a construction project manager on staff; having a dedicated point of contact while multiple projects are happening simultaneously helps to keep projects on track, Middleton reports.

To ensure unity across five locations, the church appointed an interiors committee comprised of members of multiple campuses. Each campus creates a unique identity, but maintains a strong connection to the church’s overall presence. “It’s important for the church to maintain that feel when branching out to new campuses,” Middleton says. “Those members feel they have the same church experience when moving to the new facility.”

Savannah Christian Church’s satellite campuses have created countless opportunities for the church to minister, connect, worship, and grow. With a clear vision, unified church leadership, a dedicated team of experts, and an enthusiastic congregation, the church’s potential for positive community impact is limitless, Middleton reports, and the future looks bright and promising.





Learn more about the companies in this story:

American Institute of Architects (AIA)





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