The Orchard Evangelical Free Church: A Remodel that Bears Fruit Blog Feature

By: Shannon Jirik on June 29, 2017

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The Orchard Evangelical Free Church: A Remodel that Bears Fruit

Project Profiles | Renovations

Deep love for church. Passion for worship. Drive for the expansion of the Kingdom of God. All of these things define The Orchard Evangelical Free Church and its congregation. Their mission: “To glorify God by multiplying God-centered, Christ-exalting, world-transforming believers through the gospel in the greater Chicago area and around the world.”

As part of fulfilling their calling as a church, The Orchard launched four new sites between 2010—2017 from the original Arlington Heights campus. To thrive in this next chapter of their story, the church’s leadership recognized that it needed the Arlington Heights campus to be a vibrant, growing, sending campus—the center of an expanding multisite church. Turning the Arlington Heights campus into a 21st century space was a key step to ensuring The Orchard would live out its mission.

The Arlington Heights campus had received little attention or updating, however, to keep it fresh and functional. The Orchard could no longer thrive at this location and provide central services to its other campuses.

According to Greg Snider, project developer for Aspen Group, the building was a maze of hidden rooms and windowless hallways, hard to navigate and severely cramped.

“The café, lobby, and traffic flow were jammed into one hallway. New visitors would attend for months and not know the church had a gymnasium or basement,” he says.

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It was time to re-invest in the original campus so that The Orchard could be positioned well to continue its multisite strategy.

“Because the building was large and old, we needed someone who could come alongside and help cast vision for what the Arlington Heights campus could be,” says Scott Lothery, executive pastor of The Orchard. They chose Aspen Group as their design-build-furnish partner.

Creating Space for Ministry Impact

Aspen set to work on creating space for ministry impact at The Orchard. After embarking on a deep Discovery process to uncover key ministry priorities that would drive design-build-furnish decisions, the main sanctuary rose to the top of the list, followed by fellowship space/café, and a better welcoming experience for new families, especially visitors with kids. Ultimately, the church needed more space overall for their congregation of 1,600 people.

One Sanctuary, Two Worship Styles

Worship is the most important thing that The Orchard congregation does together. The greatest challenge in the sanctuary was having to transition from the traditional service to the contemporary service every week in a reasonable amount of time. They wanted to be able to flip the space faster and more effectively in order to have different types of worship services in one space, as opposed to two. The congregation loved the look and feel of the original sanctuary, and yet it didn’t function well for their contemporary services.


“Even in this great room, nothing seemed to work just right," says Snider. "The lighting was poor, sight lines were obscured, and new technology overshadowed, even covered, some of the church’s traditional elements like the stained glass and crosses. The sanctuary didn't maximize seating capacity.”

Aspen’s new design maintains the reverent feel of the sanctuary, while maximizing the space to make room for approximately 100 more people per service, so as many people as possible have a chance to hear the gospel and worship together.

“We moved the stage back, removed the old pews, and installed new seating,” Snider says. The new sanctuary layout includes 847 theater seats and 83 stacked chairs for a total of 930 seats.

Aspen Group partnered with LiveSpace, experts in audio/visual/lighting for live events and churches. They added a large central LED wall that enhances the space but still allows those traditional pieces that the church loved to be showcased and seen.


According to Russ McCune, executive director of operations at The Orchard, “There was a lot of work and engineering and designing that went into making the sanctuary happen. We never thought it could ever work." Now, The Orchard is able to transition from traditional worship services to contemporary with ease. 

A Worship Central room also was created for the purpose of equipping and supplying the sanctuary as well as the music office and practice rooms. Here is where communion and offering are prepped and stored along with band, orchestra, choir, and any other worship space materials.

Third Place Space

Another challenge at The Orchard was the overall lack of wide, open, connecting space—Third Place space. Rooms and hallways were cramped and overcrowded, leaving little desire for fellowship. Typically, people would quickly exit the building after services.

By relocating the existing church offices, there is now more and better space for gathering with one another in the new main level lobby. With contemporary lighting, furniture, and colors, the lobby is now an environment that offers space for conversation, especially with those who are new to the church.

The Welcome Center was relocated in the main lobby so that it’s visually clear to guests from the moment they step through the front doors where to go first.


Aspen relocated and renovated a new nursery suite, which includes a family bathroom and a nursing mothers room with integrated technology enhancements so moms can stay engaged with the worship service.

Since the remodel, the overall usable space on the first floor has increased and has been separated into designated areas. The parlor, which had previously functioned as a multipurpose space for classes, events, and a café, transformed into the current Orchard Family Room.

Coffee Talk

The new, expanded café, complete with updated equipment, now provides a warm and welcoming space for people to gather and visit. It’s a fantastic meeting and transitioning space for before, after, and in between services. Families use it as their meet-up spot, and more individuals migrate here on the weekdays for meetings or for quiet work space.


Finally, the expanded lobby and café space give attendees and members a place to land and “do life together,” a key part of The Orchard’s core ministry. No longer do people feel the need to rush out of the building immediately after worship. More and more people are taking advantage of this inviting, comfortable space, and it has significantly improved The Orchard’s first impression to new guests and visitors.

New windows also were added throughout the café and lobby to let in more natural light and to provide neighbors and passersby some visual intrigue that leads to a curiosity about The Orchard.

“You can come here pretty much any given day of the week and find two or three people working in the café that would have never been here working before,” says Frank Pollina, facility manager for The Orchard.


In addition to the café, the lobby also houses the Unlocking the Bible bookstore, which provides valuable resources and books for the congregation. Unlocking the Bible is the multi-media arm of the ministry of Senior Pastor Colin Smith.


In the past, these treasures were hidden down a hallway, not easily accessible. Aspen created a resource kiosk right outside the sanctuary and connected it with an “action center,” a place for people to sign up for a service project or a class as soon as they leave worship when they are most inspired and motivated to take a next step in their faith.

Connecting Key Ministries

A new elevator is located adjacent to a new grand staircase that helps create a vertical connection between the upper and lower ministry spaces. This draws people to connect to key ministries in the lower level, including Orchard Kids, student ministries, the gym, the library, and a new family room. 


Children's Ministry Space

Before Aspen redesigned The Orchard’s children’s space, it looked and felt like the basement it was in. There were long, narrow, cramped corridors, which made dropping off and picking up kids challenging. There was no additional space for parents to stay and visit while their kids played after services.


Aspen wanted to open up these corridors and create an energizing, inviting kid’s hub with easy connection to other places in the church. Now, the space is bright and highly functional. Parents are thrilled with how this space has been transformed.

Because there is so much more room, parents can actually congregate to visit or even work while their kids play. It has a welcoming and open feel, and it’s much easier to navigate. Clear signage puts visiting parents at ease.



The Orchard gym desperately needed a facelift. At the start of the project, it was determined that this space would have to wait to be renovated to stay within budget on the other key priorities. Aspen and The Orchard worked closely to steward resources well, however, and in the end, there was enough money in the budget to add this renovation back into the project. This was a big win for the church.

The gym went from a dark, carpeted, dated space to a basketball haven. Parents bring their kids throughout the week to hang out and expend energy at the gym, or to have a quiet place to sit and watch a kid’s show or video at the nearby viewing area. The gym is now able to host Ignite Hoops, a nonprofit, outreach ministry for kids in the community.


Here, kids both from The Orchard and outside of the church can come to play basketball and get specialized coaching from adults. The evening includes a devotion, so many of these kids are hearing about Jesus, being exposed to the gospel, or praying for the first time. This is just another example of how The Orchard is working to advance the kingdom of God.

Roots-Life-Fruit? Yes.

“Our ministry is a ‘roots-life-fruit’ ministry,” says McCune. “We're rooted in the word, so we sing the word, we pray the word, we preach the word. That's our worship. The core of our life ministry is life groups—doing life together, growing in Christ together. And then the fruit aspect of ministry means bearing fruit, serving together for the glory of Christ.”

Ministry is being facilitated and life together is happening at The Orchard. People are hanging out at church where they didn’t before. Business meetings, play dates, and fellowship are happening in a multitude of new spaces. People are enjoying the space to gather as opposed to just using it for events. The Orchard’s “Roots-Life-Fruit” model of ministry is flourishing. 

“You come here now, and the place is alive,” McCune says.

“I’ve heard nothing but positives from the congregation,” says Pollina. “They all love the new space.”

“We couldn’t be happier with the space,” McCune agrees. “We can’t believe we have it. I walk the long way to the office, just so I can go through it all.”

The Orchard’s newly renovated space will help the church continue to live out its mission of bearing fruit, not just at the current campuses, but in many to come.


About Shannon Jirik

Shannon Jirik serves as assistant brand manager for Keyhole Marketing.