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A Church Architect Shares His Vision
By Michael J. Murschel Special to the Courier News

Since 1986, David Schultz and his firm, David F. Schultz Associates Ltd., have worked with more than 300 congregations on projects ranging from the public hearing phase, to multimillion-dollar, multiple-phase, from-the-ground-up buildings, add-ons, renovations and campuses.

"Worship," observed Schultz from his Barrington office, "isn't merely about people coming into the building, but almost more about them not being forced to leave when the service is over."

Schultz's conference room is an intimate blend of efficient table space and walls lined with photos of projects for client congregations. It is a retrospective of a career that has put forward highly contemporary concepts within a realm of highly traditional thought.

Typifying this is the latest expansive thinking bearing the name Schultz coined for it: the Third Room.

This is dedicated space beyond the narthex or entryway of the church, into which people can gather after the service. Schultz developed the idea when several pastors told him they really needed more gathering space.

"This is not just community space," Schultz explained. "As people come out of the narthex we want to move them into another space for a couple of hours for salting and lighting the church community and developing disciples."

Thus, such space often includes food service options with kitchens or kitchenettes, gathering space, media screens, Wi-Fi and flexible furnishings for multiuse purposes.  "It is unbelievable how popular these are in every church we've done them," Schultz said. "Some churches are even hiring staff to schedule events for this space."
Another trend is the continued emphasis on space for children and youth. A far cry from Sunday school in the basement corner of the church, or the nursery consisting of a box of toys in the narthex, many congregations are developing space dedicated to the lives of their children, and not only for Sunday mornings.

Christ Community Church, St. Charles, for whom Schultz has completed 12 projects, is a prime example of how significant ministering to the needs of children can be. Congregants wanted to create space to authenticate children so that they could say, "This is my church." That led to a host of projects, the most recent by Schultz providing a large children's activity area fully windowed along Randall Road.

"Families will not come to worship if there isn't a strong children's ministry," Schultz said. "From what we understand, unless this is a strong element, it does not matter what you pour into worship, adults with children want a good experience for their children."

Youth areas are increasingly going toward the café model, with Wi-Fi, coffee and a drop-in environment that fosters discussions between peers and staff. Open, inviting, these are safe places for the spirit to blossom and flourish.

As a result of this trend, entire denominations are emphasizing hospitality as a key to the growth of congregations. This is reflected through the rise of hospitality committees, well-trained greeters and hosts, and nametags to personalize the experience for members and visitors alike.

When Schultz looks at the impact of a building on the hospitality ministry of that congregation, he keys in on the notion that site design and building design are integrated and the church experience starts at the street.

A classic example of this is Christ Community Church, St. Charles. Taking into account the rise of land upon which the church would eventually reside, Schultz developed the site line of the building while driving up Randall Road from St. Charles, as what he terms "a passive evangelism tool." Today, rounding the bend, the church is situated directly in the middle of that line of sight.

The message that the church is part-and-parcel of the immediate area is seen in the developing trend by many congregations to return to the neighborhood model. In this, close proximity to church often translates to being able to walk there and that means increased participation. Fox Valley Church discovered the power of this neighborhood model when Schultz designed and then put in a sidewalk linking them to the surrounding neighborhood. People still like walking to church.

"I wanted," recalled Schultz, "to be a church architect ever since I was a child and built a five-level tree house with a skylight. I know my parents wanted me to be a pastor, but I went this direction with their full encouragement."