Discerning The Reasons for A Building Project

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

EMBARKING ON a building project should be an exciting time in the life of a church.

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

Understand the Why

Growth may seem like it’s “the why” to a building project, but it’s possible it might just be “the why” for something else. For example, a crowded worship space could be “the why” for adding an additional service; a bursting youth ministry could be “the why” for repurposing and renovating some existing space; and a full parking lot could be “the why” for adjusting service times and programs so crunch-time does not come all at once.

When consulting with church leadership who are looking at a building project one of the first questions I always ask is, “What is the unique thing that God has for this church, at this time, in this location to accomplish?” You would be surprised at how many times I get blank stares or awkward silence from the group who I’m meeting with. Sometimes I will get a quick reply that is something like, “To reach the lost, of course! “ I follow up by asking them to define “the lost” in more concrete terms to get them to state who they are trying to reach. Again, often I get vague answers like, “Everyone!”

My goal in asking these questions is to try to understand the DNA of the church. What is their unique calling that God has placed on their fellowship? To me that is “the real why.” From that conversation and answer, we can then start to put a framework around what type of building would support their calling.

For example, for a church who is called to feed and care for the homeless, hungry and hurting in their neighborhood, a commercial kitchen might be one of the most important things that they need. Whereas a workout area and gym, probably would not make it to the top of the list. Another question I like to ask is, “Are these needs being met elsewhere by someone in the community?”

Again, if your calling is to help the homeless and there is a soup kitchen a few blocks away, does it make sense to build so that you can start another one? Find a unique need that you can specifically meet, and partner with the other ministries that are serving the same population. I’m familiar with a church that embarked on a building project to install a commercial kitchen.

Why? So that members could hold wedding and other receptions at the church. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. However, this church had recently funded and launched a ministry — just down the road — that housed a hospital grade kitchen that could be used for events. My question to them is why not get a “shuttle vehicle” with racks for the food to be brought from the ministry center, one block away, to cater events that are taking place in the churches existing conference space?

The shuttle vehicle, while a bit of an inconvenience, would cost $20,000 -$30,000 vs the $2,000,000-plus to build the kitchen facility. Again, I am not saying that what the church was doing was wrong. I just want them to fully understand the purpose for taking on a building project. An additional question that I will usually ask is, “Will the building you are proposing meet the needs of the community? “ I know a church that put in a beautiful park — with ball fields and a playground — because the nearest park was miles away, and their calling was to reach those within walking distance of their facility.

They used prime (read expensive) real estate to better their community, rather than building something for direct use by their church members. The bottom line for me is always fully understand “the why” of a building project and how it fits into the unique DNA and purpose of a church. Who are the Players Often in the rush to get a building project going, key players are left out. This might be staff or ministry leaders who are kept out of the project. It could be local city officials and authorities who could be of valuable help as the church tries to get the proper zoning and permits to take on a project. The members of the church themselves sometimes are left out.

The senior pastor has a vision, so he just plows forward figuring people will get on board. Members that have specific knowledge and could be very helpful in the building process are overlooked. Many times, the bank or another financing agency is not consulted until the process is too far down the road. The church leadership can then be put in the embarrassing situation of not counting the costs before getting started, bringing the process to a halt. Too often, key contractors are not brought on board early enough. Things like budgets for acoustics, and audio visual and lighting are either left out, or are woefully inadequate to meet the needs. It seems like the neighbors, those who live around the church building, are always forgotten.

Rather than consult and get valuable input and buy-in from those around the building, many churches plow ahead without giving consideration to what impact an addition or new building will on those who live right there. Getting the right people onboard right away — and building consensus — is one of the most important aspects of a building project.

How Do We Start?

I always recommend that the church partner with an architect or design/build firm to do what I call a, “phase 1 project overview.”

The phase one process should involve: 
1. A needs assessment
2. A programming/discovery meeting with ministry teams.
3. A feasibility study and code review (a quick look at the site and local zoning and construction laws) Can we build at this location?
4. Floorplan layout and site plan showing where the building fits into the site and a general layout of the building.
5. Rendering, 3D sketches or model that show the exterior elevation of the building.
6. Budget estimate for the entire project.
7. Proposed building schedule With this information, a church has an idea of cost, timeframe and scope of the project, along with some rendering perspectives of the proposed building for people to see what is being proposed.

A phase 1 is an investment (usually $10,000 to $30,000), but well worth it. Additionally, this needs to be done if the project moves forward. So, by doing phase 1 upfront you are not spending additional dollars. You are, however, potentially saving yourself from getting pretty far down the road and discovering something that could stop or delay your project. It’s painful to find out after you have construction documents underway that the site is not buildable, or that the project is going to cost way more than you anticipated. Invest up front and save yourself the grief. In Short Understand why you want to build.

Get the right people involved in your process. Take the time, resources and money to do the upfront work of ensuring you can accomplish what you believe God has called you to build.

3 Important Things To Consider Before You Build

The excitement of embarking on a building project can lead to rushing the process, thus not taking the time to ensure these three important things are covered.

Embarking on a building project should be an exciting time in the life of a church.  Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry.

That excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process.

Make sure that you take the time to cover three important things.

Understand the Why

Growth may seem like it is the why to a building project, however it might just be the why for something else.  For example, a crowded worship space could be the why for adding an additional service, a bursting youth ministry could be the why for repurposing and renovating some existing space. A full parking lot could be the why for adjusting service times and programs so that the crunch does not come at one time.

When consulting with a church that is looking at a building project one of the first questions I always ask is what is the unique thing that God has put this church at this time in this location to accomplish.

You would be surprised at how many times I get a blank stare or awkward silence from the group I am meeting with.  Sometimes I will get a quick reply that is something like.

To reach the lost, of course!

I follow up by asking them to define “the lost” in more concrete terms to try to get them to state who they are trying to reach. Again, often I get vague answers like, Everyone! My goal in asking the question is to try to understand the DNA of the church.  What is their unique calling that God has placed on their fellowship.

To me that is the real why.

From that conversation and answer we can then start to put a frame work around what type of building would support their calling.

For example, for a church who is called to feed and care for the homeless, hungry and hurting in their neighborhood a commercial kitchen might be one of the most important things that they need.  Whereas a workout area and gym probably would not make it to the top of the list.

Another question I like to ask is, are these needs being met elsewhere by someone in the community.  Again, if your calling is to help the homeless and there is a soup kitchen a few blocks away does it make sense to build so that you can start another one?  Find a unique need that you can specifically meet and partner with the other ministries that are serving the same population.

I am familiar with a church who embarked on a building project to put in a commercial kitchen.  Why? so that members could hold wedding and other receptions at the church.  I do not think there is anything wrong with that.

However, this church had recently funded and launched a ministry just down the road that housed a hospital grade kitchen that could be used for events.

My question to them is why not get a “shuttle vehicle” with racks for the food to be brought from the ministry center one block away to cater events that are taking place in the churches existing conference space?

The shuttle vehicle, well a bit of an inconvenience would cost $20,000 -$30,000 vs the $2,000,000 to build the kitchen facility.

Again, I am not saying that what the church was doing was wrong.  I just want them to fully understand the purpose for taking on a building project.

An additional question that I will usually ask is, will the building you are proposing meet the needs of the community?

I know a church that put in a beautiful park with ball fields and a playground because the nearest park was miles away and their calling was to reach those within walking distance of their facility.  They used prime (read expensive) real estate to better their community rather than building something for direct use by their church members.

The bottom line for me is always fully understand the why of a building project and how it fits into the unique DNA and purpose of a church.

Who are the players

Often in the rush to get a building project going key players are left out.

This might be staff or ministry leaders who are kept out of the project.  It could be local city officials and authorities who could be of valuable help as the church tries to get the proper zoning and permits to take on a project.

The members of the church themselves sometimes are left out.  The senior pastor has a vision, so he just plows forward figuring people will get on board.  Members that have specific knowledge and could be very helpful in the building process are overlooked.

Many times, the bank or another financing agency is not consulted until the process is so far down the road.  The church leadership can then be put in the embarrassing situation of not counting the costs before getting started, bring the process to a halt.

Too often, key contractors are not brought on board early enough in the process.  Things like budgets for acoustics and audio visual and lighting are either left out or are woefully inadequate to meet the needs.

It seems like the neighbors, those who live around the church building are always forgotten.

Rather than consult with them and get valuable input and buy-in from those around the building, many churches plow ahead not even giving consideration to what impact an addition or new building will on those who live right there.

Getting the right people onboard right away and building consensus is one of the most important aspects of a building project.

How do we start

I always recommend that the church partner with an architect or design/build firm to do what I call a phase 1 project overview.  The phase one process should involve:

  1. A needs assessment
  2. A programming/discovery meeting with ministry teams.
  3. A feasibility study and code review (a quick look at the site and local zoning and construction laws) Can we build at this location?
  4. Floor plan layout and site plan showing where the building fits into the site and a general layout of the building.
  5. Rendering, 3D sketches or model that show the exterior elevation of the building.
  6. Budget estimate for the entire project.
  7. Proposed building schedule

With this information, a church has an idea of cost, timeframe and scope of the project along with some rendering perspectives of the proposed building for people to see what is being proposed.

A phase 1 is an investment (usually $10,000 to $30,000) but well worth it.  Additionally, this work will need to be done if the project moves forward.

So, by doing the phase 1 upfront you are not spending additional dollars.  You are however potentially saving yourself from getting pretty far down the road and finding out about something that could stop or delay your project.  It is painful to find out after you have construction documents underway that the site is not buildable, or that the project is going to cost way more than you anticipated.  Invest up front and save yourself the grief.

To recap, understand why you want to build what you have in mind.  Get the right people involved in the process and take time, resources and money to do the upfront work of making sure you can build what you believe God has called you to build.

A 5 Step Framework To Building

 
Five key points are involved when a church is ready to embark on a building program.

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.

Vision

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.

Feasibility

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.

Financing/Fund raising

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.

Construction

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.