Environmental Design for Church (planes and tanks edition)

Kent Shaffer —  May 29, 2009

Environmental design for churches has changed drastically over the last two decades (at least on the fringes). It has become much more than church interior design. It has evolved into creating entire worlds and environments.

For example, when Cornerstone Harvest Church (Lima, OH) recently revamped their Heir Force youth ministry, they hired Little Mountain Productions to develop the environmental design. The result was a youth ministry design that featured a lifesize M-1 Abrams tank and 40 foot wing span plane coming out of the walls.

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

To complement these installations, Little Mountain Productions also added acoustic panel military graphics to the room.

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

In case you are wondering how they did it, here are some production shots.

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions

Environmental Design by Little Mountain Productions


Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

22 responses to Environmental Design for Church (planes and tanks edition)

  1. I don’t get this one.

    What’s the reason and context behind building giant tanks and planes into your youth building? I won’t go so far as to say it’s sending the wrong message, but I think theming your church as the US Military at least doesn’t send the right message.

  2. @Joshua. I agree. I love the environmental design. Military is weird theme. Who would Jesus Bomb?

  3. @Joshua & Adam

    The environment design is meant purely to be fun and memorable for kids. Obviously, it is more about “wow” than spiritual discipleship.

    However, some may argue it supports the Lord’s army concept and the ministry name, Heir Force.

    Heir Force has become a popular middle school ministry name, and many of those classrooms feature decor such as camo, 100 gallon drums, chain link fences, and other military elements.

  4. I’m sure the pics were shared to encourage creative theming in ministry. Theming has become a vital element in today’s ministry. Surveys tell us that parents #1 priority in finding a church is a vibrant children’s and youth ministry. Studies also tell us that families decide in the first 8-10 minutes whether or not they will return. That makes the WOW factor in theming vitally important.
    Looking Up,

  5. I think its pretty neat. Churches are very bland these days. The fact that the military theme is not one you normally see in church is what’s going to make this memorable. Grade A for thinking outside the box. I thought the plane was pretty wild.

  6. This is so far from the message that Jesus shares. Please tell me this is a joke.

    A plane ok – but why a tank and the military theme. Would love to see how the message of Jesus means that the place at the place of worship in needs to be miltary themed.

    This sickens and saddens me that weapons and the military (things that control and kill) are being turned into things of worship. Sorry to be the one that thinks this is worng after all the “gee isn’t this cool” comments, but please really, what message is this sending to the kids and the community?

    Not the same as the one Jesus asked to share.

  7. We create immersive themed environments for churches and other amusement projects (www.worldsofwow.com). I love to see creative new themes and this qualifies! Great work. When we are integrating a secular theme such as this one, we strive to include spiritual imagery and messages throughout the scene so that it ties into the church’s mission and values – not just a theme by itself. I believe this is the best way to create a healthy balance.

  8. I totally get the idea that we don’t want to move away from the message of Jesus. Check that. Put it on the top of the to do list. Priority number 1. But that’s not the the only thing ministers do. It shouldn’t be seen as heretical to add creativity to the list as well. I mean isn’t another function of all Christians to display God’s characteristics as well – including Creativity…not to mention love for ones brothers and sisters as we seek to minister to our students in the most effective way. I know its war themed and some people have a cow because of political bent, but come on. If it was 40 ft tall Jesus action figure on the wall, would you then complain because he’s white, or black, or… there’s always going to be something to criticize. Jesus turned water into wine. He had a come-to-Jesus moment in the temple with a whip. He ate with sinners. He healed someone on the sabbath. Questions are great, question everything. Questions like – Is this the best way? – If you don’t think it is, how can it be made more effective? – Be a part of the solution, otherwise you are just part of the problem. I’m amazed at the critical spirits. These comments sound more like the pharisees than those of the disciples. I’m a huge fan of changing the environment to knock people out of the routine. Jesus used all kinds of things to teach, why not use every aspect of our facilities?

  9. Maybe one of the tremendous things that has gotten lost in the push for relevancy and “cool media” has been the theological reflection that goes into our structures and presentations.

    It is highly dangerous, theologically, to push out such a strong militaristic theme…especially to deeply impressionable children.

    We are left to wonder about how long the conversation was about the theological implications of creating this kind of space. Now I’m not suggesting we need to go back to the medieval times of gothic architecture, but I do believe our church spaces deserve honest, and careful reflection. I think we’ve lost that in our push for capturing the cool.

    Enjoying the blog!

  10. We too do creative theming in churches. I like to immerse the environment with scripture along with the theme. Who’s to say that this particular church is not emphasizing spiritual warfare with their military theme? Children today are getting pulled into secular environments that are flashy and attention getting. Why can’t the church capture the children with as much excellence as the “world?” It may be the only way to get them in the door and then share the gospel with them. Churches that are not appealing to children are dying. Children are not the church of tomorrow..they are the church of TODAY.

  11. Seriously… this is ridiculous. Sam, I think you are way off base. Just my thoughts, but Jesus told me what to type and he’s angry (he told me that, too.).

  12. I looked at this and then thought “this is just wrong”. And then I caught myself, one of my favourite things to do is play Call of Duty (WWII game) on Xbox 360.
    So why do it judge it as wrong in a church context but spend any spare time (which admittedly is little when you have a new baby and toddlers in the house) playing games that these images portray?
    I don’t know, but I think I need to think and pray it over!

  13. “This sickens and saddens me that weapons and the military (things that control and kill) are being turned into things of worship.”

    Weapons, like any other inanimate object, don’t “do” anything… people do things. For that matter, ideologically “military” does not automatically equal “militaristic”.

    While tanks and airplanes might be used to “control and kill”, they are also used to defend and liberate. Tanks and planes are what help this country preserve liberties, including the right for each of us to worship as he or she sees fit. I think it is as shortsighted for the religious world to ignore the secular as it is for the secular to ignore the religious. Already, just pictures of these decorative elements have created a very interesting dialogue; imagine the possibilities with kids who are actually in the same room!

  14. Very innovative thinking on their part. I love it! They are telling the world they are serious about reaching kids.
    This is also a great way to create a safe environment for the far from God crowd. They will identify with this a lot better then putting some bible verses on the wall.
    I’m a big fan! Thank you for putting kids at the top of the list in your ministry.

  15. Wow. This is wrong for so many reasons I don’t even know where to begin. Expecting children to make a metaphorical leap from actual weapons of destruction to a theme of “spriritual warfare” shows a complete lack of understanding of brain development in kids. And as far a the lesson for youth, perhaps we can argue that weapons and war are a necessary evil, but the fact that we can’t live with each other without killing is a sin we need to repent of, not make excuses for.

  16. Methinks…you overthinkith! Jesh, why can’t some things just be simple….Kids love playing “war”…since the first “kid” began would be my bet. Negative reaction that we are indoctrinating our Youth into some war craving mongruls is ludicrous.

    Perhaps it’s as simple as a visual to attract youth’s attention and once you have a captive audience then you can perhaps reach, teach…as intended.

    sheesshhh… Brian…

  17. I don’t see any thing wrong with it. I think it’s creative. And for the record is God against war? Not according to the Bible.In the conquest of Canaan God ordered the Hebrews to completely exterminate the Canaanite people, from the elderly to newborns and fetuses. This is described throughout the book of Joshua as occurring in Jericho and other Caananite cities.

  18. I read a book a while back by Shane Hipps and he talked about the “medium is the message.” This phrase was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964(you can read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message). I think he was on to something. I agree with Brian that we are expecting children to make a huge cognitive/metaphorical leap. When they see these images on TV or at school and see the violence that comes with them and then also see them in a church setting they will begin to put two and two together. I am all about creativity but not when it is going to shape my child to see the gospel in terms of a tank or fighter plane.
    Jim…I hope we “overthink” or at least be intentional about the ways we are shaping our children. At least I hope that for our local ministry context.
    John…good question about is God against war? But I find it hard to believe we (USA) can use the Bible to justify the “wars” we are a part of. Maybe the people we are in war with do the very same thing. Who is right?

  19. @kent, I think the whole concept of the “Lord’s Army” (which is a horrible phrase which has been adopted those conducting genocide in Darfur) is in reality – mocking the concept of a military, which is why I would disagree STONGLY with putting this stuff in a youth room.

    The “Lord’s Army” advances as we follow the Prince of Peace. We’re conducting a “war on war” and so – the use of tanks only betrays our cause.

    As far as this being a great way to connect with people and be creative, I totally agree. Except I think it promotes the wrong message. So people may get connected, but somewhere down the line, you’re going to have to explain to them that the “cool” stuff they used to like is actually misleading.

    What kind of strong statement and great object lesson would it be if this church decided to scrap the military design and go for something else. That’d be awesome.

  20. This sorta stuff drives me nuts too. Last year I took my youth to a Conference (UMC) Youth Weekend. The speaker had produced all sorts of skits which were very violent. In one he had a joker-like character (from the last Batman) who was trying to take a young girl. Then on the scene came what I have termed “Ninja Jesus.” Your typical white-male portrayal of Jesus threw punches, kicked and violently wrestled the evil. Somewhere Matthew 5 left the building and Jesus turned into a very violent person.

    This was especially hard for me to reconcile b/c all my youth attended violent high schools. How could I portray a different vision of the world according to the Gospel when they were seeing the same thing on this stage that they see in the movies.

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