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.

How Often Should You Renovate a Church Facility?

Practical guidelines to help you determine when it’s really necessary for you to update or renovate your space.

Is it really an absolute necessity to update or renovate my 15-year-old building?

The working life of a building can and should extend well beyond 50 years, and I’ve personally seen buildings hundreds of years old still in use and functioning quite well.

The question deserves considerable thought, and begs a slew of additional questions:

1. Has your programming changed (are you doing more youth or children events, etc.….)

One of the biggest pressure a growing church faces is space.  As the ministry grows there needs to be a place where people can congregate, infants can be cared for, children trained and youth challenged.  Sunday is the crunch day.  As a culture, we have been conditioned that Sunday is the day where we as Christians head to church for a worship service and education.  Also, as a culture Sunday morning has become our social connection time.

When we come to church we often find ourselves getting a cup of coffee and connecting with friends that we just do not have the time or do not make the opportunity to connect with during the week.  The church has used many names to refer to this connection space.  Whether you call it a narthex, lobby or gather place, this space has become a very important part of a church. Traditionally this space was not given the importance that it is today, so you may find the need to expand, re-arrange or renovate to accommodate the social time that takes place before and after services.

Has your ministry experienced growth in a specific area of ministry?  Do you have far more infants in the nursery than in years past?  Is your youth ministry rapidly growing? What about the food pantry?  I believe that a growing church is almost always in the reuse, renovation or expansion process. A church that is growing is most likely engaging in culture and as culture changes, ministry changes and therefore facility needs change.

2. Are you filling up the sanctuary to more than 80% of its capacity?

The “80% rule” is commonly thrown around.  The “rule” is that if you are more than 80% full seating wise you are full.

The logic behind the “rule” is that if the space feels to full, guests and visitors might feel like there is not a place for them.  So, what happens when you hit 80% do you add another service?

Do you set up a satellite overflow room?  I have mixed feelings about the 80% rule.  Millennials will more quickly spend money for an experience and thus I believe they are attending church for an experience.  Does a full sanctuary give them the rich experience they are looking for?

Millennials also long for intimacy and connection so would a smaller venue serve them better?  What about the rest of the congregation, what are their preferences?  There is not a right over arching answer here, However, there is a right answer for your congregation.  My suggestion is to be aware of the 80% rule and make decisions with that knowledge in hand.

3. Does your building look dated?

By dated we are not talking about a neo-classical or some other look that is time-less.  What I am referring to is the purple, mauve other dated colors from the previous few decades.  I also want to differentiate from dated vs not kept up.

Dated means it is out of style.  It doesn’t mean that there are tears in the carpet, chips in the walls or dust covering the kickplate on the walls.  Those things are things that are not kept up or cared for.  Something that is not kept up is not acceptable in any style décor.

When I visit with churches that have that dated look, I think to myself why do they not just refresh the paint and change out a little bit of furniture?  The cost would be minimal and the impact would be great.  What I have come to realize is that people who attend the church on a steady basis do not even notice it.  It is just like your home you become accustom to it and do not even notice what it looks like.

I suggest that you find the person in the church that has “the eye” for design and have them take a fresh look at your space and give some ideas.  If there is not someone in the congregation, hire an interior designer and give them clear direction as to what you are wanting to accomplish and the budget that you plan to spend on improvements.

4. Has the expectation of your congregation changed?

If you say no to this question you are most likely not in a church that has engaged modern culture.  Expectation are always changing.  Just think how technology has change our expectations.  We expect immediate response and answers.

Thanks to amazon prime we expect it in 2 days without shipping charges.  As culture changes expectations definitely change.  Let’s go back to the discussion above on the Lobby.

In previous generations people were regularly engaged and connected to their neighbors and surrounding community.

Church was just one of the many places that people would see each other and have meaningful conversation and connection with each other.  Today church is often the only spot where we connect with people and stop and talk rather than just saying a quick “hi” as we pass each other.

5. What is the expectation of people who come and visit your church?

A big red flag here if you do not know at least something about the expectations of the people that visit your church.  Unfortunately, most people who visit have low or wrong expectations based on their history or exposure to church.  In this case I believe it is the churches responsibility to blow up and change the expectations.

Shouldn’t people have an expectation when they come to visit your church of finding a warm, well cared for functional building filled with warm welcoming people?

Is it necessary to update or renovate a building every 15 years?  My take as I stated above is that you should always be renovating, updating, changing and/or expanding.  Doing this on a consistent basis keeps your facility looking fresh and helps to support the ministry areas that are experiencing the most growth.

Facility = Function and Feeling

The combination of physical elements and the emotions one experiences from their surroundings can shape the the comfort level from beginning to end.

When you enter a church, or for that matter any building, you’ll have a visceral reaction to the entirety of the facility

You will have an emotional response as well as a physical response to the space.

An emotional response maybe to the pleasing colors in the space.

A physical response maybe the goose bumps that cover your arms from the super chilled air.  Both of these responses are natural and also important.

I have previously written about the power of scent in a space.  I have also written about traffic patterns in a facility these are both very important things that influence how you react and interact with the facility.

To clarify my word usage I will use feelings for emotion and functional for physical.

Currently, I am attending a startup church. We are less than a year old and have been blessed to move into our own building.

We were meeting at a local college in a room that had a real cool vibe.  The space we were in was a recital hall that seated 300 people. It had lots of wood and warm finishes.

The new to us space was built in 2005, seats 400, and feels a little sterile.

Thankfully, the Lead Pastor and Worship Leader have an eye for design.  A new color scheme was immediately implemented with more changes yet to come.

The simple changing of the color gave the room an incredibly different feel.

Additionally, we will be adding wall wash led lights and a backdrop to the stage. In this case the functional act of painting created a contemporary look and a feeling of warmth.

On our first Sunday in the space we noticed that the room heated up rather quickly. This was in part due to the fact that the space came with all conventional house and stage lights (basically mini heaters)—with all the lights cooking we jumped 5 degrees very fast.

If the rise in temperature had been slow, many would not have noticed, as humans adapt to slow incremental temperature change very easily.  However, we humans do not adjust well to rapid changes in temperature.  Think about the last time when it was cold and you dashed to your car from a warm building.

We also discovered on that first Sunday that the room cooled very quickly, as we easily dropped 5 degrees.  Almost everyone noticed the rapid temperature change, but what was noticed the most was the noise that the roof top air conditioning units made.

The change is background noise level jumped about 10dB (at 3db most people perceive the change in volume) and spiked much higher as the unit turned on.

The functional part of cooling the building was causing an emotional reaction to both the temperature change and the background volume change.

We learned a lot that first weekend as we were given possession of the building on the Wednesday before the first service. With only 4 days to prep and get setup for a service, we knew that there would be some surprises.  In fact, our first Sunday in the space was B.Y.O.C. (bring your own chair).

With what we learned we will adapt.

Feeling
• Welcoming
• Warm
• Inviting
• Cozy
• Comfort
• Intuitional
• Cold
• Life
• Dead
• Safety
• Security
• Cared for
• At Home
• Established
• friendly

Functional
• Parking
• Directions
• Ease of Navigation
• Safety
• HVAC (comfort)
• Security
• Restrooms
• Barrier Free
• Traffic flow
• Capacity

It is great to have leadership that not only gets the importance of the word and worship music, but also gets the importance of a space feeling right and being functional at the same time.

Defining Good Church Design: Measuring Your Facilities’ Form & Function

Both form and function need to be equal partners – often at great tension with each other- that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

 

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase; Form follows function.

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”
Louis Sullivan 1896

Sullivan is the creator of the modern skyscraper that started popping up in the growing large industrial cities in America in the late 19th century.  The great improvements in steel and also skeletal design at that time fueled the growth in popularity of the skyscraper.

A skyscraper is a good example where function (driven by the need to go vertical as cities grew) was a strong driving factor in the design of buildings in that era.

As we look at our church buildings, what is driving the design form or function?

A modern-day example of form winning out is the Crystal Cathedral (now owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in Garden Grove, Orange County, California.

Completed in 1981 it was touted as the largest glass building in the world.  The Cathedral was known for its terrible acoustics.  The initial $1.2 million sound system installed at the construction of the building was completely unintelligible. The system was 2,800 pew back speakers each row on a digital delay.  Three crystal clusters (custom built speaker clusters) also provided coverage.  Altec horns were added in the ceiling grid to get better frequency response.

However time and phase was not addressed, thus the sound was unintelligible.  The nearly 3,000 speakers were eventually replaced by 11 speakers that created a system intelligible enough to last the next 18 years.  But, it was still not a great place to hear a sermon because of the acoustics of the building.

A modern day example of function leading the way is the trend over the last decade to build black box theater type of worship centers.

In general, they are designed to be acoustically very dead, the ceilings are painted black and as the antitheses of the Crystal Cathedral there are no windows. These spaces were designed specifically to do production style of worship.  The dead acoustics allows for a studio like sound from the worship band.  The controlled lighting and video presentation provides the feeling of a concert.

As inspiring as the Crystal Cathedral was to look at, the black box theater style of worship space screams forget about the building watch only what is happening on the stage.

The two extreme examples above show that when the scale is tipped to heavily to either form or function there are great tradeoffs that end up happening.

My goal is not to say that the Crystal Cathedral or the Black box style of worship center is bad.  Rather my goal is say that both form and function need to be equal partners, often at great tension with each other that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

How can form and function translate to good design at your church?

Function

1. Traffic flow inside and outside

I have a friend who writes a blog and basically makes a living online.  He talks all the time about making interactions with his customers as frictionless as possible.  He posts multiple places, uses multiple social media channels and does direct email.

His reason is to make it as easy as possible for each person to receive and engage with his content.  Traffic flow should be looked at in the same way.

How are you providing the easiest way for your attendees to get in and around your building?  Have you ever just studied your traffic flow on a Sunday?  Often some minor changes to a building or some signage updates can greatly improve the traffic flow.

2. Climate, heating and air conditioning
If your attendees are not comfortable it is difficult for them to fully engage.

Do you have someone who is monitoring the climate control system?  They should be looking at objective data, temperature and humidity.  Everybody has their own comfort zone regarding temperature so the best thing to do is pick a standard and then stick to it.

If you determine temperature off how someone feels on a given service that person may have a cold and thus turn up the heat to try to create comfort for themselves. At the same time this puts many other into discomfort.  The key is consistency. With consistency people can choose what they wear knowing that they will be comfortable at a service.

A person that I know brings a sweater every Sunday (even in the summer) they know sometimes it’s a little too cold for them so they come prepared.

One other note you should check your system every 4-6 months.  I suggest doing it at the change of the seasons.  Check to make sure the system if performing optimally also check the temperature in multiple different spots in the room to make sure the temperature is uniform throughout the space.

3. Sound (lobby noise and sanctuary sound)
I argue that one of the most important parts (if not the most important) is sound.

This includes background noise in the sanctuary and lobby. If people cannot hold a conversation in the lobby because of all the noise created by other people having conversations, consider getting some acoustical treatment to help deaden the sound.

One of the main social functions of church is that people get the opportunity to talk to friends and meet new ones, so create a space that helps make those conversations comfortable.

I also argue that the spoken word is the most important element of a worship service. A poor performing sound system where people need to strain to hear, or like the original system at the crystal cathedral where you could not understand what was being said makes people uncomfortable and frustrated.

Form

1. Beauty
What are you doing to bring elements of beauty into your space, indoors and outdoors?  Take a fresh look and walk around in and around your building.  Would painting an accent wall or adding a piece of art bring beauty?  How about planting some flowers around the entrance and trimming the bushes well you are at it?

A question I ask myself as I visit and consult with churches is; does this space feel institutional or warm and inviting?

Then the important follow up question, Why?  Color, furniture placement, plants and many other things factor into the feeling a space gives.  What are the things of beauty in your space?  What could you change to make the space inviting?

2. Engaging
Along the same lines as making the space feel inviting, what causes engagement in your space?  I have seen artwork bring engagement as well as beauty.  People stopping to view a piece of art and reflecting on its meaning.

Architecture can also do this.  Is there anything on the exterior of your building that engages people?  A recent church I worked with was looking for a new home, the building that they chose to purchase was purchased impart because the industrial look of the building fit well with their brand.

3. Uplifting
We attend church to have an extraordinary experience.  I am not talking about the cool light show and production. The point is the overall experience should not be like our ordinary daily experience.

A building has a personality, it invokes emotion from those who come into contact with it.  Is the personality of your building uplifting?  Do people sense and see something out of everyday ordinary life that lifts their spirit?

Yes, Sullivan is correct when he says the form follows function.  The building needs to work well and suit the needs of the congregation.  It also should point us to our creator with beauty and form.

I contend that good design involves form and function working together to create an extraordinary experience.

5 Elements of An Engaging Church Facility

One of the activities that a church facility needs to facilitate is creating an active sense of community.

It is true that buildings are basically what we call brick and mortar, however we must also recognize that they have character and thus communicate a message about the inhabitants and often facilitate very specific activities.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

This might be as simple as doing some of the above. Moving or creating new coffee stations, creating seating areas, adding tabletops can all give clues to where people should go and connect with each other.

Another way to help in traffic flow is to have key people that set an example or politely encourage people to move to s specific location.

If someone is lingering in front of the coffee station having an extend conversation blocking the area often someone simply coming up and saying excuse me as they walk towards the coffee station with give a social cue that the people in conversation need to move.

Your facility can most definitely facilitate community. 

Your challenge is to do the work and figure out what you can do to help make this happen.

Wayfinding, Which Way is Which?

One of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable. Here’s what you can do to help visitors – before and after – they enter your doors.

I believe one of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable.

The difficulty lies in the fact that every person is unique in their needs and desires.  Some want to be warmly welcomed and shown around.

Others just want to slip in an out unnoticed until they are ready to reveal themselves.

However there is one commonality that can make every visitor very uncomfortable. That is the feeling of being lost.

For most people anyplace that is new and different can be, and often is intimidating.  If the experience is visiting a large unfamiliar church – that visit can be overwhelming. And even being a guest at a small local church can be scary.

So what can you do to make that visitor feel more comfortable – before and after –  they enter your doors?

Give them an experience before the visit.

People feel more comfortable if they know what to expect.

A number of churches do a good job on their website, explaining what attire is expected and giving a little narrative about what to do or where to go.  But why not give people more of an experience on your website?

A church that I am working with is putting together a visitor experience for their website that includes a fly thru with a drone. The drone video will take the visitor from the parking lot thru the entrance, show the visitor center, coffee area, restroom locations and children’s area.

The idea is to stage it so it looks like a Sunday morning. So there would be people in the building, making it look as life like as possible.

I love this idea!

Now if drone footage is not possible for you to get on your website, add a floor plan and pictures.

The more comfortable you can make someone feel the more likely they are to walk thru your doors on a Sunday morning.

Guide their Sunday church experience

For me one of the frustrating things in life is not knowing where to go when I walk thru the door of a building.

The problem for the person designing the wayfinding is that they do know where I want to go or what my level of “knowing” about that building or similar buildings are.

So to make signage work well, the designer of the wayfinding system must take a lot of different variables into account.

Even though there are a lot of variables some very simple truths hold true.

The first is to keep signs clear and concise.  Don’t make people have to think or interpret what the message is.  One of the many great laughs I had at the last WFX in Louisville, KY a few months ago was over this conference center sign.

One of my friends saw the sign and called me over and said, I guess no miracles allowed here because they won’t let Jesus walk on water.  Thus we created the meme

Really wayfinding is a pretty straight forward proposition and with some thought and planning it doesn’t have to be subpar.

What is good wayfinding at your church facility?

Wayfinding is really a simple problem solving exercise:

1) The person needs to know where they are at (i.e. main entrance)
2) They need to know where they want to go (i.e. childrens ministries)
3) They need to find out the route that will get them there
4) They have to be able to correctly follow the route
5) The have to know when they get to the destination

To solve these simple problems with the use of signs:

1) Keep it simple
2) Show only what is needed, don’t overly complicate directions or maps
3) Give clues along the way to keep people on the route.

In addition to having good signage there should also be a person at the welcome area that is very good at giving directions.

The person giving directions should have some simple nice looking floor plans printed on paper.  The direction giver can then draw on the map and point out landmarks along the way.

Another great way to solve the problem of giving directions is to have someone available that will lead the person to where they want to go.

In numerous churches I have been at the children’s check in area is usually the most difficult to find and the most difficult to figure out what to do when you get there.

So having an advocate (guide) that can take a family to the children’s area and then walk them thru the check in process would help make a lot of first time visitors feel much more relaxed and comfortable.

Wayfinding really doesn’t have to be a frustrating, difficult thing.

With some good signage and some people available to assist newcomers. You can easily make all of your guests feel comfortable.

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.

 

Church DNA: Who are you? Who?

Along the way it has become an idea, that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

 

A good friend of mine Jeff Abbott, service programming director at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan recently opined about the copycat syndrome in today’s churches.

He talked about how a couple of years ago everyone had to have pallets on their stage to look cool.

He also bemoaned the current use of LED tape.

Jeff has nothing against pallets or LED tape, however he is discouraged by what he refers to the cookie cutter look of today’s contemporary churches.

Jeff continued on talking about the idea that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

Jeff asked the question “Does God really want the church to be a bunch of clones, stamping a couple clones out in towns across the country?”

Both Jeff and I agree that we do not believe that is what God intended for the church.

It really comes down to a church understanding their own DNA and culture and living that out.

I was at a training session where the main topic was diversity.  Point blank I expected the typical talk on culture differences and the understanding that we need to develop between cultures.  The speaker asked the simple question of how many different cultures that we thought existed.

I began trying to estimate the number of countries and then thinking I could probably add a 5 to 10x factor to that number.

I figured each country had a main culture with a few additional sub cultures that permeated each country.  His answer rocked me on my heals and shocked me.  He proclaimed with authority that there are around 7 billion cultures in the world!

Wait 7 billion, how can that be?  That is about how many people are on earth.  Exactly!

So am I saying that we need to have 7 billion different churches?  I believe there should be 7 billion different temples as our bodies are the temple of the Lord, I do not believe each person is a church.
A church is a collection of cultures (people). I liken to America, there is the distinct American culture but in that culture there are a lot of subcultures.

On the lateral plane there are culture separations based on race, socioeconomic class and the like.  On the vertical plane there is the age difference, the Boomer, GenX and Millennials.  All of the different cultures make up the overall American culture.

The church is really the same way.

As people we bring our own diverse culture under the umbrella of the church to collectively create its own distinct culture.  This could be a culture based around evangelism, missions, doctrine etc.  Whatever that culture is, a wise church will base its ministry around the culture, thus creating the DNA of the church.

Once discovered, each church must do and create things that fit into its own unique DNA.

This does not mean that a church cannot learn and adapt ideas from another church or other institution.  It means that the church has to meld it into their unique DNA.

A great example that I experienced of this taking place was at the WFX conference.

Jeff and I were walking downtown Louisville, enjoying the downtown when Jeff suddenly stopped and pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of a window display.  The display was a cool wood design that filled the front window of an architectural firm.  It really resonated with Jeff (and myself), it also was a perfect window display for an architectural firm that showed off their design creativity.  Jeff turned to me and said, “I just got a great idea for a set design”.

Will the set look exactly like the window display?  I doubt it. When Jeff builds the set it will be inspired by the window display, in fact it will most likely bear a strong resemblance to it.  More importantly the DNA of Ada Bible Church will be woven into the set and it will become part of who Ada Bible is.

If you don’t know or understand the DNA at your church, discover it!

Also do things that fit your DNA.

This includes taking things that you see and weaving them into your DNA.

Does a Great Facility Equal Great Growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected. Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must…

 

Does a great facility = great growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected.  Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must.

Over the years that I’ve been involved in ministry, I have noticed that there can be what I call the “want to be” syndrome.

The statements – I am sure you have also heard – go something like this, “If only we had the technology that XYZ church has, we would grow as fast as they are”.  Or “If our building looked that nice we too could have rapid growth.”

Mentally most of know that the above statement is not true for the church, in business or in general.

I am currently listening to one of the many biographies on the life of Steve Jobs.  Many of you know that that when Steve left apple, only to come back a decade later, he started a company call NeXT.  Steve had it all: he recruited the best engineers and built the most advanced factory and well-equipped offices.

Steve himself was a visionary, a charismatic (if not sometimes frightening) leader.  NeXT however basically tanked being acquired by Apple (some say that NeXT was only purchased by Apple to get Steve back) for a fraction of the investment that went into the company.

How could a company that had the best of support and wind at its back fail?  I contend that it was Steve’s journey in the wilderness, he had lost direction and purpose.

Churches too can fall into this trap.  I have seen church plants that seem to have everything, a great place to meet, plenty of financing and yet not succeeded.  Success is not guaranteed by the amount of resources that we possess.

Another way to look at this is to realize that the reason your ministry may be stagnant or dying is not because you don’t have the cool technology, or a fancy facility.  Most likely the stagnation come from the fact that the church is not connecting with people or living out and fulfilling its calling and mission.

A change in venue or and upgrade often just moves the problem, it the proverbial lipstick on the pig.  Sure it looks a little nicer, but it’s still a pig.  In fact, I believe that new technology may only magnify your current irrelevance. It’s like putting new siding on a building with a bad foundation or a new paint on a car with a bad or blown engine.  It may look better but it’s still going to crumble or stop running.

The false hope and belief that something new can spark growth or change the current reality leads many churches to get out the lipstick, somehow hoping against hope that nobody will notice the stench that is still there.

Reality check.  Buildings and technology are a means to an end.  They can help facilitate growth but in no way are they the secret cause.

I think the biggest proof of this is the fact that you can have a growing church in a centuries old building and you can kill or have a dead or dying church in a brand new multi-million-dollar facility.

If you are counting on facilities or technology to somehow be the thing alone that brings growth to your ministry, you better get ready for a major disappointment.

Church Construction: Should You Build Your Field of Dreams?

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”  This thinking is in stark contrast to the reality that a building does not equal building the church.

It’s also easy to get caught in the trap that a new building or building project will solve problems, help unify the congregation, increase giving, or attract new people.

Let’s debunk some of that wrong thinking surrounding church facility construction


There are some really good questions to ask yourself and your congregation before you embark on a building campaign.


1. Do you have a large debt on your current facility?

If you are already deep in debt it would not be wise to saddle additional debt and thus strain on your ministry.  This may seem like common sense, but it is amazing how uncommon common sense is. The added debt payments will only take away from investing into areas that can help the ministry grow.

2. Do you expect a new building to make a “statement” in your community?

This really smacks of egotism. If you think that having the coolest or newest building in town is going to help your church grow, you are unfortunately in line for a serious let down.  I have seen wonderful growing churches meeting in the humblest of places.  I have also seen soaring beautiful churches with 90% of the seats empty on a Sunday.

3. Do you need to increase membership to pay for the increased debt of a new facility?
This is really putting your faith into the “if you build it they will come philosophy.”  What happens if they don’t come? Do you default on the loan?  To me putting your faith in increased membership to pay for a building project is putting your faith in the wrong place.

4. Do you expect a new building to cause your congregation to be more evangelical and outreach driven?

Yes, a new building is a great talking point and it can be a start in getting people to ask others to visit your church. However, without a culture of evangelism this will be very short lived.  Once the building has been open for a little while your congregation will fall back in the old habits and will not continue to invite people.

5. Do you need a building to allow your whole church to meet at one time?

This is a great question that is not asked enough.  A church I am familiar with was about to embark on a multi-million-dollar expansion to the children’s area because of crowded conditions.  At the same time, they happened to send out a survey to the congregation. One of the questions on the survey was “what service time do you prefer?”

The church found out on the survey that parents with children were about evenly split on wanting an earlier service versus a later one.  At that point the decision became why don’t we offer two service times and thus split the children’s attendance and negate the need to build.  As a side note.  Two years later they ended up building because both services had grown so much that they now needed the space to accommodate the number of children in both services.

6. Do you expect a new building will entice your congregation to give more generously?

You might get a spike in additional giving towards a building project.  However, if you had another area like missions that was highlighted, you could also get the same spike in giving.

The real danger here is again putting faith into “if you will build it they will come, or in this case give”

Some final thoughts, owning a building does not make you a church, or even a better one.  What makes a church are the people in whatever setting God has placed them.  Also, don’t fall into the trap thinking that if you would build that problems will go away.  If anything the added financial and organizational stress is only going to exacerbate problems that already exist.

So before embarking on building your field of dreams, make sure that you are grounded in truth and are truly following God’s will for your congregation and not just man’s dreams.