On April 17, 2011, Word of Life church held its first service in a brand new facility, helping to bring closure in many ways to a project that had started more than a decade earlier. Building on a vision cast by his father, Pastor Ronnie Sims, to build a ministry large enough to impact the world, Pastor Joel Sims was looking to complete what his father started.
Word of Life sits on a 65-acre tract of land in the city of Flowood, just outside of Jackson, Miss., about 25 minutes away from the church’s original location purchased in 1999 by the elder Sims. Work began on the site with the design of a new campus to go along with already-completed parking and site preparation for the new facility. The project, however, lacked clear budget oversight, and the estimated cost wound up being significantly more than the church could afford. “You can imagine the stress that put on all involved.” Sims says. “Everybody was discouraged. The banks wouldn’t loan us near the money that was needed. The congregation was tired of all the fundraising. It was simply hard on everybody.”
Compounded with the unexpected passing of the elder Sims, work on the project was halted and the site lay dormant for nearly 10 years.
Fast forward to 2009. Joel Sims, now senior pastor of Word of Life, is in need of a new facility for his growing congregation. With the land purchased 10 years earlier by his father, Sims again set out to build a new facility. Though after experiencing first hand the toll that a building project can take on church leadership and the congregation, as well, Sims relates, “I was determined not to let the same mistakes happen all over again. So I set out to get counsel from pastors who had built before. I never talked to a pastor who actually enjoyed the process. I was determined to find a better way.”
Armed with a well-defined budget and a clear vision of what he wanted, Sims contacted Charlie Daniels, owner of Churches by Daniels in Broken Arrow, Okla. “I was at a continuing education seminar at Rhema Bible Training Center a few years prior to the start of our building project,” Sims remembers.
“They held a class on building projects, and the speaker was Charlie Daniels. I was sitting in class and on the inside the Lord spoke to my heart that when I build I was supposed to use him as my builder. A couple of years passed by and it was time to build. Charlie was the first call I made. I contacted a couple of other companies to do due diligence. After doing so, I just had peace with Charlie, so we went with Churches by Daniels.”
The concept of one supplier providing design/build services appealed to Sims, and Churches by Daniels was contracted to design and build Word of Life’s new home. The team assembled by Churches by Daniels included TriArch of Tulsa as the design architect, providing building and interior design, and Brad Lechtenberger, AIA, NCARB, also of Tulsa and licensed in Mississippi, as the architect of record for overall architectural services, including design, construction documents and construction administration.
Building relationships, building a church
Developing a solid relationship and building trust between the church leadership and the general contractor is arguably the most important aspect in a successful building project. Couple that with good communication and the ability of the design team to translate the vision into something tangible. As Daniels says, “During pre-construction we met regularly with Pastor Joel as he communicated his vision to us. He had taken pictures for a few years of what he liked for the inside and outside of the church. He knew exactly what he liked and had images to communicate that vision to us and the designers.”
Though Sims’ vision was quite clear, the new design had to work within the confines of the site preparation performed 10 years earlier, as well as pass muster with Flowood’s new Architectural Review Board. The resulting exterior design led many of the church’s new neighbors to remark that “it doesn’t look like a church.”
Scott Vrooman, owner and director of architecture for TriArch, says, “The church was multicultural in nature and the building design needed to reflect and embrace that. We listened to the church’s aspirations and proffered the ‘intersect’ concept. The church brought people together in all walks of life and allowed them to intersect as believers. Casual conversations in gathering spaces were just as important to God touching lives as people sitting in a worship service or in a classroom. Much thought was given to these points of intersection, and the entire organizational structure of the church was built on this ‘intersect’ theme.”
The design features a large central meeting space that Vrooman notes is the fulcrum point for all the other elements that make up the facility. As he describes, “Two main axes intersect with each other at that point to symbolize the different walks of life of the members that eventually intersect as one body. Every department of the church has geometric or architectural ‘references’ back to the point of intersect[ion]—whether it be the center of radius of a curved wall, or an axis of symmetry for a group of classrooms.”
The facility as a whole is a mix of pre-engineered metal building and structural steel, with an exterior of exterior insulation and finishing system (EIFS) and stone. Sealed concrete is used for flooring in high traffic areas, with carpet added in the sanctuary and office spaces.
In a move that would prove efficient and effective, Sims designated Ryan Lamberson as project coordinator for the church, who met weekly with Churches by Daniels’ on-site staff. If anything came up either Lamberson would make the decision or he would bring it to Sims for review.
Daniels credits Lamberson’s ability to provide quick responses—so the project could move forward in a timely manner—as a key element in helping to stay on schedule and budget. The efficiency displayed by Word of Life during the process may be a primary factor in the project winning a 2011 Worship Facilities Conference & Expo (WFX) Solomon Award for Best Building Administration.
Relationship was also a key component in getting the AVL systems designer/installer on board. During a trip to WFX 2009 in Charlotte, N.C., Media/Tech Director Jay Horne attended a technical tour of Elevation Church. For the event, Armando Fullwood, director of Wave based in Charlotte, N.C., was mixing front of house (FOH). Horne says, “I was really impressed with the sound quality in that room, and the overall ‘guts’ displayed by how Elevation Church approached their worship experience. I met Armando and connected with him there, and a relationship immediately grew as we connected through Facebook. After talking with him, I recognized how connected he was ... and I realized how important being connected to my AVL firm would be. Pastor had given me 100% freedom in choosing an AVL firm and so I ran with Wave, and never looked back.”
In addition to providing AVL design and integration services for the new sanctuary, including an HD video system and concert lighting, Wave provided acoustical consultation and solutions, as well as digital signage system design and installation for the welcome center.
Leigh Jones, public relations and event coordinator for Word of Life, notes some of the church’s takeaways from the building experience. “Do your research and know what you want on the front end. Pick the right builder and be ready to trust them,” she says.
Since opening, Word of Life has experienced growth and an increased attendance of 40% within the first two months. It was 10 years to the day after the passing of the elder Sims that the church opened the doors to its new facility—helping to provide restoration for the Sims family as well as for the church.
By Mark Johnson, Worship Facilities Magazine