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A Desert Oasis | Canyon Ridge Christian Church

A church in the desert wanted its campus to reflect the biblical concept of the path that draws people to Jesus, disciples them toward holiness, and leads them out to make a difference in the world. In this article, originally printed in Christian Standard Magazine, Mel McGowan tells how that big idea guided their environmental design.

“We did not come to Las Vegas to reshuffle the deck,” says Mike Breaux, the original lead church planter of Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas.

The heartbeat of the church remains the same as when it was planted back in 1993. Canyon Ridge doesn’t seek to take from other churches, but instead goes after the unchurched. When major construction was needed on their 40-acre campus, church leaders originally worked with commercial firms rather than hiring an architect. Their intention was to develop a campus devoid of religious symbolism.

The resulting unadorned concrete block and tilt-concrete structures created a high school campus look that was reflective of the desert environment and welcoming to the local community.

PlainJoe kicked off our involvement with Canyon Ridge with an interactive “blue sky” workshop with church and community leaders to align the church’s mission, brand, programming, and master plan around a “path” concept. As attendees walked between the campus buildings, signage reminded them of the church’s discipleship path—attend a service, serve at one, be in a group, invest in and invite others, and spend daily time with God.

An ‘Outdoor-Living-Room’ Campus

Canyon Ridge’s inviting “come as you are” style helped the church grow quickly. Soon, the worship center’s seating capacity needed to double; that challenge led the church to add a balcony.

Climbers who start a treacherous ascent often begin at base camp. As such, Canyon Ridge’s family ministries complex is known as Base Camp; it’s a preparation station for youth as they start to climb through life. It includes props, scenic murals, and a second-story “escape hatch” leading to a desert grotto playground. Age-appropriate zones facilitate large-group gatherings and breakouts. The design team worked with natural materials inspired by local rock formations and mountains visible in the distance.

The desert climate informed many of the design elements. Curved concrete became canyon walls that create a filtered shade canopy for walkways. Adding shaded galleries to all buildings made check-in areas and major entries more convenient and pleasant. Trellises and shade fabric extend ministry space and gathering places into the areas between buildings, offering protection from the harsh desert sun.

The construction reoriented the campus as an “outdoor living room.” A water feature doubles as an outdoor baptistery with seating built in among a grove of shade palms. A dry creek bed with pedestrian spines, native trees, and a special focus on color makes the walk to the parking lot an enjoyable experience.

A chapel for smaller community and church events—including weddings and funerals—also was built. The concrete sanctuary was designed as a desert landform with a kiva-inspired cross tower and a baptistery at the base.

Moving Into the Next Quarter Century

Canyon Ridge celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and it plans to continue reaching out to the lost in Las Vegas. God has honored Canyon Ridge’s servant’s heart as it has grown to four campuses. Senior pastor Kevin Odor has been with the church since the beginning; Odor and his family moved from Ohio to Las Vegas in 1993. The first service at the church was attended by 700 people, and Canyon Ridge now reaches more than 7,000 every weekend.

Odor is nearing the end of a two-year transition that will see teaching pastor Drew Moore replace him as senior pastor. The renewed mission of Canyon Ridge is to “Join Jesus. Bring life. To everyone, everywhere, every day.”

The church serves as a community support system for service families at Nellis Air Force Base, located just down the road from the main campus. The church also has a large Celebrate Recovery program and provides other support ranging from marriage classes to grief counseling to helping students survive today’s challenges.

“One thing we’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how many are in your church service,” Odor said. “The key ingredient is that people want to be known.” One way Canyon Ridge does this is through small groups or serving groups that care for and pray for each other.

As the church moves into its second quarter century with a new lead pastor at the helm, Canyon Ridge is excited and ready to keep extending the gospel to the unchurched of Las Vegas.

This article was previously posted on ChristianStandard.com

Mel McGowan is cofounder and chief creative principal of PlainJoe Studios. He is a leading master planner and designer of churches in America.

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Mel McGowan
P: 949.892.7004
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PlainJoe Studios is a multi-disciplined design studio connecting story across 3 dimensions:

  • Spatial Storytelling: Architecture & Environments
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  • Strategic Storytelling: Brand & Identity