A Church in the Round
A multitude of 1,400 to 1,700 gathers for a typical Sunday service at the Christian Center Cathedral of Praise in South Bend, Indiana. “But,” says Associate Pastor Stefan Radelich, “there’s not a bad seat in the house.”
Radelich sees the speaker’s ability to more completely communicate with the audience as a prime advantage of a church in the round, such as the 190′ × 67′ Monolithic Dome that the Christian Center uses for their sanctuary.
Seventeen years after the dome’s construction, Radelich says, “We’re very pleased with the performance of this structure. Just from the communication standpoint of preaching, it’s great. The roundness promotes and facilitates movement. You are not forced to stand in one place. You can have a lot more animation when addressing the congregation.”
An Island Platform at the Dome’s Center
The Christian Center blends the contemporary with the traditional in their services. They use a variety of music, presented by both choir and orchestra, and do concerts and dramatic presentations, in addition to sermons. All these presentations are video and audio taped for later television and/or radio broadcasts, and most take place on the island platform at the Monolithic Dome’s middle.
That island platform runs back in a wedge shape toward two of the exits. The wedge shape includes the choir area, orchestra pit and, at its back, a large video screen. During presentations, the action on the island platform gets projected onto the video screen. Radelich says, "That offers a good view from around the dome, with the exception of two wings that are somewhat at an inadequate angle.
“At any rate,” he continues, “because the building is round, you are never more than about sixty-five or seventy feet from the center, where the action takes place.”
Radelich cites a few other advantages the roundness contributes. He says that as a speaker you can see the faces not only of those right in front of you, but of your listeners sitting all around you.
“And people in the audience aren’t just looking at the backs of heads. They can see the faces and the reactions of those sitting opposite of them. That kind of seating arrangement promotes more of a close, family feeling for both speakers and listeners,” Radelich says.
He sees the incorporation of eighteen exits, that can be easily accessed and quickly reached from just about any point in the dome, as another advantage of a round design.
“It’s an impressive structure,” Radelich says and describes the outside of the Monolithic Dome complex as “looking like a circle surrounded by a square, with the two shapes complementing each other.” The square surrounding the dome divides into four quadrants that include a day care center, a bible college, administrative offices and the art department.
Asked about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the acoustics in the dome, Radelich replies, “In the dome’s construction, it’s very center or apex was not treated with acoustic material, so that center is just a hard shell. Acoustic material wraps around the entire dome from that point downward. Consequently, when you stand in the center of our island platform, there is an echo in that area.”
According to Radelich, it’s really the speaker standing at the platform’s center, rather than the audience, for whom the echo is bothersome. He says, “We tell our speakers to move around and not stand in the center, and we’ve overcome much of that problem with some audio engineering. So, overall we’re very happy with the sound in the dome.”
Dr. Lester Sumrall founded LeSEA in 1957 and helped build it into a multifaceted organization. Located on forty-five acres, LeSEA Ministry, in addition to its Christian Center Cathedral of Praise, includes a Christian school for kindergarten through grade twelve, the Indiana Christian University, a Prayer line accessed by telephone or e-mail, the World Harvest Magazine, the World Harvest Ministers Network, a global Feed the Hungry Program, a full-service travel agency through LeSEA, and a program of dietary supplements called Healthy Choices.
In 1992 in a book titled Courage to Conquer, Sumrall wrote, “As you submit to the Lordship of Christ, don’t back away from the changes that you will see. Maintain a positive attitude, holding fast to that which you know to be true. Keep your eyes on Jesus!”
Sumrall died in 1996. A tribute to him on the LeSEA website describes him as “an extraordinary evangelist who had a vision for the future.”
LeSEA Ministry, now under the pastorship of Steven Sumrall, one of Lester Sumrall’s sons, continues the work of its originator. “Just one of the annual events we have here is our Camp Meeting,” Radelich says. “It’s a kind of celebration that takes place in the dome. During that event, some 10,000 to 12,000 people, from all over, pass through in a week. The first-timers are very impressed with the structure. They’re amazed by the huge area it encompasses and by the fact that there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.”
Originally published in our Roundup Journal, Summer 2000