This year, The McKnight Group is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. One part of the celebration is a series of podcasts reflecting on the history of the company. In this post, we bring some highlights from episode 3, “The Early Years – Part 2” as we look at how our work began to grow in those early years, along with the opportunities and challenges our founder overcame.

Pioneering a Different Church Design Approach to Working with Church Leaders

As with most young companies, The McKnight Group began by giving customers exactly what they asked for. In the words of Homer McKnight, our founder, “When we started, we did church building like everybody else. We would ask the board, the building committee, whoever was in charge, ‘What do you want?’ And they would tell us, and we would try to give them that.”

Soon, however, Homer and Bill realized that church leaders were just seeking to copy church design ideas from other churches. They wanted what they’d seen others do with their church buildings, rather than paying attention to what their specific church and community really needed. So, they changed tactics. Again, in Homer’s words:

“Money spent for study and for ingenuity and for church design drawings is much less costly than building a church building incorrectly or not doing what they want to do. So, fairly early on, we realized we were the ones with the most knowledge of church buildings, and particularly, we had new ideas. So, we became bolder and bolder on sharing those ideas, asking questions and solving problems, and building church buildings that really worked.”

Church Building Turning Points and New Tools

A major turning point for The McKnight Group came in 1986, when they helped Grove City Church of the Nazarene relocate to a new church building which was the first of its kind and worked out amazingly well for them. As Homer says, “As far as our knowledge goes, in the United States, it was the first building of that kind that worked that well. And from then on, we became known as church growth experts.” Their understanding of the church building as a tool for ministry really helped them take off.

This success meant that they were asked to build churches farther and farther from their home base, which brought challenges (in an age before fax machines, computers, cell phones, or even digital images) because they had to visit every site to understand what church leaders needed in a church design. Their solution was to get pilots’ licenses and a single-engine Rockwell plane (later called a Cessna). You can tune into the podcast to learn about their adventures with that plane, which became a critical tool in their church building toolkit.

Trusting in God and Persevering Despite the Obstacles

Everything wasn’t always smooth flying during those early years, however. There was a time when they had nine church design and building contracts, which was work enough for a year and a half. Then mortgage interest rates began to climb, reaching a high of 22 percent. Within a month, every single one of those nine church building projects was cancelled. Obviously (since we’re commemorating 50 years) they made it through, and you can learn how they survived by listening to the podcast [link]. In Homer’s words, “God always brought a solution and an answer, and that’s how we knew he was in charge. And here we are, 50 years later, with a bigger and better company.”

Learn more about the history of The McKnight Group and how it has evolved to the forefront of Design-Build experts in the field of constructing churches. The complete series, along with other details of The McKnight Group’s 50th anniversary celebration, can be found here.