Inspired Design: My Story

December 26th, 2013

My own journey into environmental awareness is a bit convoluted. I can only trace through the seasons of my life and series of passions. As a child, my broken family environment often left me alone to think and dream What if? In the midst of this relational chaos, I discovered that there was one thing I could actually control, one activity whereby I could impose change into my daily situation at home, and that was my physical environment. Even as a ten-year-old, I discovered that rearranging the furniture in my own room every week could afford me a brand-new environment. Creating a different “world” from time to time (no doubt to escape the painful reality of my outside world) engaged my ideation, changed my perspective, and became an art form I have continued to enjoy practicing throughout my life—even after the world became a much more manageable place.

Occasionally my grandparents would visit, or we would visit their small home. These family gatherings were happier times, and I remember overhearing conversations between my mom and her mom while they sat in my grandmother’s living room—which was a remodeled one-room schoolhouse—talking through all the possibilities a furnished room could offer. They were always mentally arranging and rearranging things, and then they would share their ideas with each other.

“We could put the piano on that south wall, Marian.”
“But where would we put Great-grandma’s hutch?”
“Well, it could move around to the wall over next to the window. The light would still flow in real nice.”
“I never thought of that! Still, the old secretary would need to go. It’s been crowded ever since you brought that old thing out here.”
“You’re right. I’ll get Daddy to move it back to the bedroom.”

On and on they went. It was undoubtedly therapy for Depression-weary minds. I’d listen intently and try to picture each move they described right along with them. What that gentle banter taught me early on was that things could be rearranged. They can change. Despite our limited financial resources, we’re not stuck here with the “same old, same old.” We can make the very same room look totally different every single week if we want to. And I grew up thinking that everyone’s family changed up the living room every week. Heck, it was good, cheap fun and awarded us a newish house each time the rearranging ensued. “All new day, all new chances!” Who could know that seeds were being sown to grow a ministry career around the concept that we can—and must!—reimagine our community environments to suit the needs of the occasion?

Imagine my dismay when years later I had my  first encounter inside a traditional church building and found all the furniture in the sanctuary not only unmoved from week to week but also virtually bolted to the floor.  That traditional church configuration spoke volumes to my spirit. It said, “We’re committed to never changing this up; we must keep things exactly as they are week after week, year after year.” “Someday, somehow, this will have to change,” I promised myself.

My first years at Ginghamsburg Church were spent leading our worship design team, which is still very close to my heart. I have always enjoyed being part of the team that brings the Word to our people in fresh and creative ways week after week. All those years I was convinced that we were never simply designing worship, however. We were creating life-changing God experiences. All the details of integrating music, media, and messages, grounded in the truth of God’s Word, served to provide environments for transformation. I will always be grateful for the many amazing moments watching God work in us and through us (and often in spite of us!).

All the while I was designing worship, however, I was also paying attention to my “drivers”—that is, what motivated me to get up and go to work each morning and what I enjoyed most about designing unique worship experiences week after week after week. More and more I found myself focusing on the environment. I’d become fascinated with the human ability to build worlds and name them, to design environments that evoked emotion and transported faith-seekers to a place intentionally crafted. Within the realm of our church world, we call these experiences “worship celebrations.” We would name a direction for the spoken word, and I would proceed to crawl inside that message from scripture and ask, “How might it feel to be inside the four walls of the worship center, experiencing this word? How might we arrange our physical surroundings so that the ambience also communicates this one entirely new set of messages and distinguishes it from the last message series evoked?”

I began not only thinking about this while brainstorming with our team but also pursuing these concepts in my free time as well—while shopping, walking, traveling, or choosing reading material. It became my magnificent obsession. Beginning by staging events—funerals, dinners, pop-up shops, and coffee cafés—then moving on to stage design, I explored this propensity to create spaces for connection and community. In time I was invited to recruit an unpaid team to redesign and remodel a dated church building that Ginghamsburg had acquired as a satellite campus in Dayton, Ohio (Fort McKinley UMC). A few years later, I designed a second church-plant campus, this time a storefront in a shopping plaza.

It’s fair to say that designing spaces for connection and community has become a way of living and breathing for me. I find myself impassioned by issues that others completely overlook and fanatical about concepts that others cannot yet see.  The Old Testament book of Nehemiah chronicles his basic building strategy: he saw a vision, formed a plan, recruited a team, and oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s broken walls. I’m convinced that just as Nehemiah worked that plan, God can still use servants possessing this passion for leading new kingdom construction. I believe God can be enjoyed and worshiped more fully as I dare to exercise this calling for God’s glory.

excerpt from: Redesigning Churches: Creating Spaces for Connection and Community by Kim Miller Copyright © 2013 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

view Table of Contents below


Table of Contents
comments powered by Disqus