Nearly six years ago, Rommel Manio was called to lead Saddleback’s Campus Experience Team. Created to best serve through environment, this unique position at Saddleback—often considered the Disneyland experience of churches—was a job that required Rommel to think outside the sanctuary.
For starters, he formed pockets of community where groups of 5–20 people could gather and connect. Taking this a step further was the integration of Camp Hope.
Built in 2014, this common area in the center of Saddleback’s Lake Forest campus was designed to target their key demographic of young families.
“We wanted to turn the area into a place where families would come, hang out, and stay,” says Rommel. “So we created it with an old school summer camp vibe.”
Designed with teepees, a cabin, canoe, and camper, this communal spot is where Saddleback often hosts summer activities and events. It’s here that visitors often linger past the church service to connect and find community.
Despite the impressive setting, Rommel says you don’t have to spend a fortune to shape a memorable experience. Often his team simply swaps out artwork, rebuilds a backdrop, or moves furniture from one area to another to freshen the look and feel.
They also successfully target their key demographic of young families without overlooking other generations. For their 20s/30s community, they redesigned the patio with sleek lounge furniture. Last summer, their annual barbecue featured specific spaces where people could engage with others in their age group.
“We have designated pockets all under one theme-umbrella at each event,” explains Rommel.
Over the years, his team has come to appreciate the importance of aesthetics in the environment. Much like the lobby of a hotel or restaurant, the setting plays a major role in the mood and outcome of the experience.
“Environments matter,” he says. “Every environment is going to create an emotion, good or bad. We want the church to trigger a good emotion when someone walks into that space. We don’t want to wait until they hear God’s Word — it’s about taking down the walls of fear and anxiety, especially if they haven’t been to church in a while or are unchurched.”
At the forefront of his mind is to never get in the way of someone hearing God’s Word. In fact, the Campus Experience Team proactively creates a funnel through the highest standard of experience. This attribute of “preparing a place” comes directly from Jesus in John 14:3.
As emulators of Christ, when it comes to environments, we too must be responsible for preparing a place that will demonstrate our greatest efforts, he says.
“You have to treat each person like they’re that one you can affect today,” says Rommel, “—And you don’t know who that one person is, so you have to treat each person like they’re that one. I want our volunteers and our team to do the same thing, because otherwise, what are we doing this for?”
To listen to Mingo’s interview with Pastor Rommel Manio , click HERE.