Designing the Mixed-Use Church
How Versatile Campuses Connect Faith Communities
by Victor Body-Lawson , AIA
Body Lawson Associates Architects and Planners
A music studio . A community center . A coffee shop . What do these places have in common ? In the coming years , they might all have a religious organization or house of worship as their landlord .
With membership in faith communities plummeting — a recent Gallup report
showed a decrease of 20 percent in church membership over the last two decades , with many people who identify themselves as “ religious ” less likely than ever to belong to a place of worship — some faith-community leaders are looking for ways to reinvigorate their congregations while building growth opportunities for the future . Many are considering how buying additional land or redeveloping existing sites into mixed-use campuses could reignite their membership — and secure the future of a robust , faith-based community around them .
Congregation leaders willing to think creatively in this way , and share their land and buildings with community partners , stand to benefit from not only upgraded facilities , but also from new income streams . For stand-alone houses of worship where redevelopment isn ’ t feasible , designing multipurpose rooms and secular environments will help place them in a strong position to adapt to the changing needs of their congregations and neighborhoods .
Based on recent work with several inventive and future-focused churches , our firm , Body Lawson Associates , has seen that ideas we ’ ve applied to mixed-use and residential developments have shaped the investments of religious clients . Two of our recent projects exemplify the approaches that are becoming more common around the United States .
Senda Apartments : Affordable Housing Meets Church Community
When the pastor of Iglesia de Dios Senda de Bendicion was looking to redevelop his site in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx , New York , he reached out to a nonprofit developer , South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation ( known as SoBro ). The two found a heavenly match : Plans for a new mixed-use project that would see the outdated church — adapted from a commercial building — demolished and a six-story affordable housing project erected in its place . And on the ground floor ? A new
Sanctuary space in the planned new Iglesia de Dios Senda de Bendicion Church . Image : Courtesy of Body-Lawson Associates
SACRED PLACES • WINTER 2021 17