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Old Walmart becomes a unique big-box church sanctuary in Greenfield

A contractor rolls a finish onto the stage in the Ridge Church's auditorium in a former Walmart building.

A contractor rolls a finish onto the stage in the Ridge Church's auditorium in a former Walmart building. Photo By C.T. Kruger

March 26, 2013

Greenfield - From boxy to holy, the Ridge Community Church pulled off its transformation of a former Walmart into a church with such success that regular shoppers of the store would be astonished.

In just a few weeks, workers transformed the interior of the old Walmart to the extent that a congregation member who worked there for years couldn't recognize it, said a pleased Jake Bohmann, a Ridge youth leader and the project's on-site owner representative.

Outside, the building still looks like a big, boxy Walmart. As of last week, a glass entrance was still being created.

Touring the interior

But inside, the big-box look is offset as one gazes at a broad path that winds past big children's and youth rooms on either side. It also winds past what will be a café where the Subway eatery inside the store used to be.

Finally, the path ends at a bank of doors, lit with a honey-brown hue, that leads to the sanctuary - an almost round space created toward the rear of the store. That's where some 650 people will worship on Sunday mornings.

The sanctuary will have chairs instead of pews around a stage that curves out toward the congregation.

The high Walmart ceiling was taken down so that the sanctuary ceiling could be even higher. The effect of that lofty ceiling painted a deep black is a little like the infinity of the night sky in the sanctuary's subdued lighting.

Behind the sanctuary is a broad passage that looks like any office building. That will be the nerve center of the new church, with offices equipped with the latest in communications.

About the only vestiges of a Walmart are three of the 20 ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling pillars. All but three are now hidden within the new walls that constantly change direction ever so gently, erasing any impression of a box.

Future office space

At the north end of the office area are doors that lead to what used to be the store's layaway area. The congregation will convert the northern 40 percent of the building into offices and stores for lease.

But for now, that northern commercial portion is untouched, looking exactly like the Walmart it was, .

The breath-taking contrast between the untouched Walmart section and the church section is graphic proof of how much imagination the transformation took.

"When you walk in the door, you forget Walmart real fast," Bohmann said.

Unusual church feel

While they didn't want their church to look like a Walmart, they didn't want it to look "churchy" either. That's because they want to reach out to those who have had a poor experience with a church or are turned off if the experience comes on too strong, said Kristi Dezek, church communications coordinator.

To find an atmosphere where people would be comfortable to just hang out, planners checked out lots of venues, even a few bars, she said. But it wasn't until they got to the Harley-Davidson Museum that they found inspiration for an aesthetic theme that "would be classy enough for women and cool enough for men," Dezek said.

The feel they chose is industrial, though not gritty - shiny and smooth from the gleaming stainless steel and glass garage doors inside leading to rooms and the brand new, shiny ductwork overhead to the stained concrete floor under foot. But that concrete is in three colors polished to a brilliant sheen.

A minimum of formal religious trimmings, not even an altar, adorn the church, where the pastor sometimes delivers sermons in jeans.

The transformation from store to sanctuary has been swift and will be sufficiently done in time for the church's Easter Sunday services.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: The Ridge Community Church's celebration of its first services in its first church home on Easter Sunday

WHEN: 9 and 10:30 a.m. March 31

WHERE: 4500 S. 108th St., Greenfield

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