A Passion for Mission-Minded Architecture

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Whatever good things we build end up building us."

Jim Rohn

As an architecture firm based in Columbus, Ohio, Keiser Design Group has been forging relationships with people throughout central Ohio in order to help them design both residential and commercial projects for over 20 years. In addition to houses, office spaces and banks, KDG has also been actively working on what they like to call “mission-minded” projects since practically the day the firm began.

“I believe church buildings can and should be missiologically discerned. It should be a positive representation of the church to the surrounding community. Buildings and property can communicate the goals and priorities of a church before a person in the community ever steps foot inside.”
—Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today

A Mission-Minded Background

When founder Dan Keiser started his company, it was as a “moonlighter,” working nights and weekends on whatever building and design projects came his way. He was always looking for people who needed help with home additions or commercial building jobs. Before long, though, Dan’s fledgling architecture firm gained a reputation for a specific kind of project.

“The volume wasn’t huge at the time,” Dan remembers, “but if you look back at the history of our company, we were always doing a church project.”

Over the years, mission-minded projects became a passion for Dan and his team. Mission-minded architecture projects brought a unique opportunity to work with people of similar values.

Similar Values Create Strong Relationships

“Similar values doesn’t always mean ‘Christian’ or even a person of faith,” Dan says. “For me, it just means that we have like values: relationships, integrity, expertise.”

When the values of the architect and those charged with remodeling or building a church align seamlessly, everyone wins. With KDG’s mission-minded projects, this is the norm. “The satisfaction that comes out of that is often as much about the alignment of the relationship and how fun the process was, as it is about the end product.”

It is only recently that Dan has found the perspective to observe the importance of aligning values. “I could never really put my finger on why we liked working with those projects. But now that we’re 20 years in, it’s been kind of an “Aha!” moment.”

A church project in Central Ohio perfectly exemplifies this relationship dynamic. Though there was serious work to be done, the process KDG went through with the client, along with the relationships that developed throughout, ultimately proved to be the most satisfying part of the project.

“When something fits, or tastes good, or whatever, you want to do that again,” Dan points out. “When you have a good experience, you look for similar experiences. Looking back on it, that’s exactly what our clients had. It made it an enjoyable piece, one that we’re hungry to do more of.”

Facing Challenges, Building Solutions

As with all of KDG’s projects, mission-minded work comes with challenges as well as advantages. Dan explains that sometimes clients are unfamiliar with the process involved in architectural design.

“They frame the project on the phone, but as I meet with them and start to understand who they are as an organization, I start learning more about what their passion and identity are as a community. Many times, their need goes beyond what they came to me for help with.”

Sometimes Dan helps them realize they need so much more than just what they called him there to solve. There might be necessary steps that need to be taken before KDG can step in.

These are small issues that most of the time simply need to be illustrated in order to come up with a plan together. That’s Dan’s job as a team leader. “It might take a little bit of time,” he acknowledges, but at least we have a path.”

Another challenge is getting the right people in the room. For some pastors, dreaming (of the end goal) isn’t the problem. They’re not interested in the steps needed to get there, but focused more on the big picture. Or else there’s an administrative pastor who’s in charge of the nuts and bolts but doesn’t fully understand or see the larger vision. Through his years of experience, Dan knows you usually need a combination of these personalities to get a project off and running.

Working With Dan Keiser and his team was pure joy! Dan is gifted creatively to see details outside the box and yet create a "masterpiece" that meets the needs of the client. He is very keen and sensitive to meeting budgetary issues and does all that he does with the highest level of integrity. We are now seven years into our building expansion and the quality of Dan's vision continues to bless us and provide the environment we need for our students, teachers and families. I highly recommend Dan Keiser and his design group!
Cindy Philips at Grace Christian School

Cornerstones of Mission-Minded Architecture

Growing up in a very traditional church as Dan did might make one think that there is only one way to “do church.” But as he realized throughout his adult life, there are myriad ways to participate in a spiritual community…and just as many ways to serve that community through architecture.

“One thing I’ve discovered over 20 years is that people do things differently, and it doesn’t make them right or wrong.”

Over the years, Dan learned that being bold enough to push back is a key to successful partnerships in mission-minded projects. He finds that encouraging clients to dream big often results in more efficiency throughout the process.

“As you get older and wiser and more experienced, you realize that they’re engaging you in conversation because you’re the expert.”

Just as KDG must be the right fit for the client, Dan must make sure the client is a good fit for KDG. When he sees a potential client with a clear vision of what they want to achieve, there is a good possibility of working together. Clarity of vision, he says, is essential for a successful partnership and an architectural solution that truly serves.

For some leaders, achieving that clarity can be difficult in the face of congregational resistance to change. Church leaders who are in need of architectural design work need to understand that they will never have 100% agreement within their church on anything, let alone design choices. But when a strong leader has a strong vision, the flock will eventually follow.

“A leader just has to be clear about where they’re going and why,” Dan says, “and people will surround them and support them.”

Over the years, mission-minded projects in and around Columbus have shaped Keiser Design Group into a leading architectural firm with thriving relationships throughout their community. Architecture is a process that requires people to come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. When solid relationships are built by design throughout the architectural process, the resulting architecture is such that it can have the power to enhance the relationships among a church community for generations to come.