The Big Idea: Integrating Church Campuses with Community Life

Willow Creek Community Church, known for its expansive reach across seven campuses in the Chicago area, faced the challenge of enhancing its integration with the surrounding communities. The church’s leadership team aspired to transform each campus into a more accessible and welcoming hub, aptly termed the “church of the city.” Their mission was to not only serve as spiritual centers but also to actively engage and benefit the local populations, inviting people from various backgrounds to utilize church facilities as part of their daily lives.


Revitalizing Campuses with Community-Focused Designs

To achieve this vision, Willow Creek partnered with PlainJoe: A Storyland Studio, which embarked on crafting a new master plan for each of the seven campuses. The strategy involved enhancing existing facilities and adding new elements to make the campuses more visible and inviting. For campuses set back from main roads, solutions included constructing features closer to the street—such as standalone chapels and expanded sports and recreational facilities—to capture the attention of passersby. Additionally, the plans included building connection walkways to main intersections and introducing retail, food, and beverage outlets near some locations. This comprehensive approach was designed to make the church campuses integral parts of the community fabric, offering more than just spiritual services.


A Network of Community Hubs Welcoming All

The redesign and strategic enhancement of Willow Creek’s campuses have begun to transform these spaces into thriving community centers. Notably, the downtown Chicago campus, adjacent to the El Train, has seen significant development, including a vertical, mixed-use development that leverages the church’s “air rights” in partnership with development firms. This project exemplifies the church’s new role as a community anchor, providing various services and facilities that cater to a wide audience. The ongoing work on three additional campus concepts underscores Willow Creek’s commitment to its reinvention as a community-centric institution. These efforts have positioned the church not only as a place of worship but as a vital part of the community’s daily life, fulfilling its mission to be a blessing to the people it serves.

You can view our work on Willow’s website here.