Often I find myself consulting or giving advice as to what steps a church should take when they are ready to embark on a building program. In general, there are five key points involved in a building project. Each of those points could be an article, or book unto themselves.
My goal is to introduce to the steps and give you a basic overview of what each step entails.
Each congregation is unique however by following these steps you can head down the road of building with confidence.
This obvious step is often over looked. As American’s we love to jump to the what. What are we going to build?
We really need to spend much more time at the Why? The why is not just because our ministry is growing and needs space. The why is, what is our DNA, what has God purposed us, this fellowship to do at this moment in time.
Additionally, what vision has God given us as it relates to what our future ministry will look like.
Brushing over this initial step has led many churches to build something they either didn’t need or ends up not meeting the true needs of their ministry. I currently am working with a church that is building small. They average around 800 and are building a 450 seat auditorium. That means that immediately as they move into the new facility they will be doing multiple services and in essence be packed out with 2 or 3 services.
This church knows its DNA, they don’t feel called to be a mega church, they believe God has called them to impact they neighborhood he has placed them in.
So they are referring to this first building as an incubator.
They Plan to grow a vibrant congregation and in 18-24 months spin off 75% of that congregation to a new location just across town. The 25% that remain at the incubator location will then start fresh, new staff and everything and seek to grow a vibrant church that can be spun off in 18-24 months again leaving 25% at the incubator to do it again and again.
This church gets who they are called to be, a local church that makes a difference in the neighborhood where they are planted. So their plan is to have multiple fully functioning, self-supporting locations that infiltrate the town in which God has place them. This determined the size and location of the facilities they are building.
At the firm I work for we do a significant amount of what we call Phase 1 work. A phase one is really a feasibility and needs study that is done to provide budgeting for the project. This process where we come in and sit down with your leadership and ministry teams gives direction to what is going to be built and how much it will cost.
This second step should be done only after they vision part is complete. It is vital that you know who you are before you embark on what to build.
The Phase 1 process allows the vision of the building to take shape and form. After sitting down will all the stake holders in the project a conceptual drawing is completed as well as a floor plan.
From this a budget for the project is determined. What is great about this process is that the church now knows how much money they need to raise and they also have tools, the 3D renderings, to share with the congregation.
The nominal cost of a Phase 1 keeps churches from embarking and spending a lot of time and energy on something they can’t afford to build. It also protects them for wasting a lot of money on design work as they go thru the process.
Now that budgets have been determined and hopefully also with the renderings, the congregation is ready to move forward. Now the question becomes how. Do you take on debt, do an extended fund raising campaign, break the project into phases and build as money is available?
Fundraising is also an area where you have to know your DNA and what direction your congregation would like to pursue in raising funds. I suggest at this point that churches contract with a professional fund raising frim. Yes, just like the Phase 1 study, it will cost money. In this case it is really costing you money to in the end raise significantly more money.
A well run capital campaign can greatly shorten the building process by securing funds quicker. A good professional fund raising firm will use the 3D renderings done in the feasibility study to help communicate, inspire and call to action your congregation.
Kick off/Full design
Somewhere during the capital campaign, it will be time to give the project the go ahead.
At this point, an architectural firm, or a design/build firm takes a really deep dive into programming. They will get into the nitty gritty of what is the precise square footage that each ministry needs, what the fit and finishes are going to look like (this is likely to be determined by how successful the capital campaign is).
Depending on the delivery method you choose, construction may also begin at the same time you are finalizing the design.
The key in this phase is to revisit the phase 1 process with all of the stakeholders to ensure everyone is still on the same page and has agreed on the same priorities.
This can be the most exciting time of the entire project. it can also be the most painful. Likely it will be both. There is nothing more exciting than to see your dream and vision literally come up from the ground. There is also nothing more painful that having to put a project on hold because the funds are not available.
One of the most important aspects of a construction project is cash flow. I have seen churches that have had to put a hold on their project because they did not plan the important element of cash flow well. Yes, they have the money committed but the bank may temporarily cap a construction loan until a certain percentage of that pledged amount is in the bank.
Construction overruns can also bring a project to a halt. There are many infamous stories of projects that were delayed or never were completed because the change orders during the project emptied the bank account. This can happen because the owner keeps changing his mind, or finding out as you are building that some major element has to change because the design was faulty. Rarely if ever does it happen because of extenuating circumstance, like material increases.
To ensure that your construction project is more exciting and painful it is important to be sure of your design before you break ground, or be sure that your design and construction team are in sync to bring your project in on time and budget.
Following the framework above, in particular understanding the why, and what your DNA as a church is will lead you to a successful building project.