New Church Space Lets ‘Relationships Thrive’

Design overcomes site obstacles and a limited budget to create a new open-air pavilion that meets the congregation’s larger goals.

The Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California, had a problem: It lacked a front door.

“The best way to describe it is that it was a church designed like a shopping mall,” says Jeremy Hart, LPA’s Director of Civic + Cultural. “It was a big, multisided box, built in the early 2000s, with not a lot of windows, surrounded by fields of parking.”

The church was built on a tight, sloping site. Congregants could enter through five different doors on different floors. Worshipers tended to encounter only members who parked in the same zone. Guests would arrive at the site and stare perplexed at the building, wondering where the front door was.

“Church members never felt connected,” Hart says. “They never felt the building had a heart.”

LPA’s design task was to create an obvious and alluring entrance for the Orange County evangelical church, with a space where members would want to hang out and engage with others before or after services. They also needed additional space for events and activities to accommodate different groups and the community. Eight architects over the previous decade had tried in vain to come up with an appealing design that worked within the church’s limited budget and local code restrictions. For the church, patience was a virtue.

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The relocated and enlarged open-air pavilion coffee bar located near the entrance quickly became a place for guests and members to gather.

To help keep costs low, LPA designers landed on the idea of adding a large, open-air pavilion with a coffee shop, called Awaken, near the entrance. Awaken is a beefed-up version of a much smaller coffee bar that had existed previously on the church’s third floor.

The first-floor pavilion added about 6,000 square feet to the existing 110,400-square-foot church. By creating an “outdoor” space, designers were able to add usable square footage while meeting the city’s planning and code requirements.

It's doing exactly what is was designed to do: letting relationships thrive.

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Seating areas within the welcoming entrance pavilion provide spaces for smaller meetings and socializing.

The pavilion space features folding glass doors and sloping windows fixed in an open position to maximize the flow of fresh air and allow the entrance to be secured after hours or reconfigured as a completely open space during the day. The ceiling brings in warm wood tones and has large fans to keep the air circulating. A giant video wall with speakers is integrated into the space to broadcast services and activities.

Guided by frequent brainstorming meetings and design charrettes with the client, LPA designers greatly expanded the original coffee spot, turning it into a true coffee shop. “We wanted to learn more about how they would use the space and how it might serve different purposes,” says Melody Tang, an LPA Associate who served as the project manager.

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The pavilion ceiling brings in warm wood tones and features large fans that keep air circulating.

Tang helped lead the design team through an unusually challenging agency plan check process. Methane tests were needed for the site. Concrete benches were added to define egress routes, as well as for seating. “We made several presentations to local officials,” Tang says. “We had to take the project through a lot of hurdles.”

One element of the church’s vision was the need for an iconic feature that would draw people to the facility. The design response was a 70-foot-tall, illuminated cross supported by a cast-in-place concrete monumental wall just outside the new entry. “It’s the highest thing around and is meant to locate you and draw you in,” Hart says. “It anchors and grounds the new entry pavilion.” A thin line of LED lighting along the edge of the cross illuminates it at night.

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Church members mingle at the Awaken coffee shop before and after services; parents grab coffee after dropping off their children at the affiliated school.
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A 70-foot-tall cross, illuminated by LED lighting at night, fulfilled the church’s desire for a beacon to help guide members and visitors to the new entrance.

“The scale of the cross was as much about the faith as it was about wayfinding,” Hart says.

Church members immediately embraced the pavilion and coffee shop, opened in early 2020, as informal gathering places and event venues. Parents often stop by to chat and grab a cup of coffee after dropping off their children at the church’s affiliated elementary school. The pavilion’s indoor-outdoor nature makes it a perfect space for activities geared toward students. And, during the pandemic, the spaces allowed the church to maintain its sense of community and hold smaller meetings in a safe, open-air environment. The pavilion can comfortably accommodate 200 well-spaced people.

“The new open-air pavilion is absolutely beautiful,” says Amy Brookman, the chief financial officer of Friends Church. “It has served as a beacon of hope to our community and provided an environment that our people feel safe and comfortable gathering in.”

The new facility exceeded expectations on many levels. The space successfully created a new entrance to the church and the coffee shop, while addressing the group’s larger goals.

“It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: letting relationships thrive,” Brookman says.

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The indoor-outdoor pavilion, which can comfortably accommodate 200 well-spaced people, includes a giant video wall with speakers.