The McKnight Group is commemorating its 50th year in business in 2020. We have introduced a podcast reflecting on our history as part of the commemoration. In episode four, The Mission Trips, we share how Homer McKnight, our Founder, first realized the importance of creating church design that helps the church building become a tool for ministry in the community. His mission trips drastically changed the way the McKnight Group designed and developed each church building and became a catalyst for a major trend in new church facilities. Here are some highlights from the podcast episode.
A Different Kind of Vacation
By 1974, Homer McKnight had been working hard to grow his company for 4 years straight. As Homer admits, “I hadn’t taken a family vacation, a break, done anything other than build the company and do what we started out to do for four years.” Then his wife heard that the central district of their church was planning a mission trip to Haiti and needed volunteers. When she suggested this to Homer, he first shrugged it off. “I don’t have time to do that. We haven’t had a vacation. I don’t even have a weekend off. How can I go to Haiti for two weeks?”
But it seems that Mrs. McKnight didn’t relent in wanting to join the trip. Eventually, he gave in and went to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. He’d never left the USA before, or saw communities where the vast majority of people were illiterate and had no jobs. For Homer, it was a life-changing experience. To hear more about what it was like, listen to the podcast. For this article, however, the important thing to know is that Homer was hooked.
Understanding How a Church Building Functions in Haiti
Part of what engaged Homer was the fact that the church building in these small Haitian towns served the “hub of the village.” It was usually the only permanent building, constructed by mission groups like Homer’s. It wasn’t just used for Sunday mornings, like each church building that Homer was building back home. Instead, the church building served also as a meeting place, a storm shelter, and a clinic when doctors came to the village.
For Homer, this was a revelation. He saw how a church building could function as a key tool for ministry within a community. He began to realize that his business experience as an architect, contractor, and successful company owner gave him the wisdom to help with church design and construction around the world. But he was worried that if he spent more time on missions, his church building business would suffer. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and he explains why in the podcast.
Innovating Church Design Back Home in the US
Homer McKnight had a second revelation from his mission trips to Haiti. He began to ask why church buildings in America were not used as a community hub too. When he would meet with teams at various churches, he would find them focused only on the worship space. In his words, “as I would meet with church boards and building committees, they were arguing for hours over the color in the stained-glass window or the color of the carpet or the padded pews.”
God then gave Homer the opportunity to transform how his own church building could be used. Grove City Church of the Nazarene was relocating. As a member of the board, Homer told them, “We need a building that’s going to allow us to meet the needs of Grove City, Ohio, and our youth. “God gave me a vision,” he explained, and he went home to create a church design that would become a transformative tool for ministry and lead to many more such church projects in the future.
Over a 50-year history, Homer McKnight and the McKnight Group have been involved with hundreds of mission trips to help build churches internationally. To learn more about how those experiences helped forge the vision of the company for churches here in America, listen to the full podcast here.