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.

 

Designing and Maintaining Church Buildings of Excellence

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings and they need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  How can you maintain buildings of excellence.  Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of one that you are planning. Will it inspire or meet at mediocrity?

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings.

They need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  From private one on one counseling, to corporate worship, a church building has many activities that take place.  Churches are also unique in that there are a plethora of stakeholders as well.  From the staff to the constituents, many people are invested in both being financially tied to the building as well as users of the space.

Back when I was in college and pursuing a business degree, facilities management was a new discipline being offered.  I took of a number of facilities classes as I was intrigued by how buildings and space influence and support business in tangible and intangible ways.  I eventually decided on getting my general business degree (this was after achieving my broadcasting degree) but my intrigue and love for facilities would always be somehow interwoven through my career.

In my days as a technical director at a mega church, that intersection was primarily on Sunday mornings as I made use of AVL (audio/video/lighting) systems to help support and enhance worship.  As I moved on to AVL system design and sales I learned how to integrate these systems in what seemed like a constant battle between form and function. Today as I work in business development for a design build firm in essence my world revolves around buildings.

As I look at the uniqueness of a church building 5 important things come to mind.

Form

I remember it like it was yesterday sitting in a facilities class in college with the professor going over a handout/spreadsheet (computer spreadsheets were new and there were no projectors in the classroom, just whiteboards) on how to determine what was needed for an office space. To this day I have a love hate relationship with spreadsheets.  They provide great data but I believe can be overused to manipulate that data to get the outcome you desire.

The professor emphatically repeated throughout his lecture/rant that form follows function.  The phrase “form follows function” according to Wikipedia is attributed to Louis Sullivan.  I believe that Sullivan’s was conveying the idea “form follows function”, as opposed to “form follows precedent”. In other words what the building is going to be used for, in Sullivan’s case a skyscraper, required a different form than what was being currently used in construction.

However, what I took my professors lecture/rant to mean was, who cares what it looks like as long as it is efficient.  I have seen many times, where an architect will have an inspired vision and a desire to create beauty in his design, only to have a committee shoot his idea down calling it too grand, even ostentatious. The committee would always seem to come back to function alone as the driving factor. Often a beautiful design was squelched even before price or feasibility came into the equation.

Lest you think I long for gaudy, ornate and the somewhat cold architecture of the past. I believe a church building should somehow reflect tradition as well as contemporary culture and at the same time be inspiring and inviting.  Not an easy task, but it can be accomplished.

Function

If the space is not useable for its intended purpose it is useless. For some reason it always seems to be that acoustics are the thing that is consistently overlooked.  The results usually end up on the opposing ends of the spectrum.  They either seem to be overly reverberant or exceptionally dead. There never seems to be a healthy balance where congregational singing is carried well and at the same time have the programming (music and the spoken word) work well.

As Sullivan stated, the true form of a building is dictated by the function.  This I agree on. After all, if you want to create an intimate space that seats 1,000 people with the furthest seat 60’ away from the platform, a great deal of the form has been determined.  Most likely it will need to be a wide seating area that requires a balcony.  It could also be in the round or steeply raked seating like a movie theater.  The point is that function obviously has a huge impact on form.

I would argue and I am sure you agree that the function does not have to impact the beauty of the space and in common use of the phrase “form follows function” I see beauty as the “form” that everyone seems all too eager to sacrifice on.

People

Another often used phrase is, “The Church is really the people”. Yes biblically and hopefully practically this is true.  The church building is really just a place where we gather together as believer (and no believers) to explore and grow in our faith and in community together.

Where the people part of the equation comes in for me is twofold.  First is the space inviting and inspiring? Secondly the practical side, do we all fit comfortably in the space and is it functional, enough bathrooms, appropriate heating cooling, lighting to make the space comfortable.

The best experiences I have had at church usually happened because the building supported people in the proper way.  It was not too warm or cold, the seat was comfortable, all the tech worked without creating distraction and the bathroom was easy to find, it was clean and also I did not have to wait in line out into the hall before using it!

So when a building functions well and supports people properly it frees us up to concentrate on the purpose that we are there for.

Perception

I have been in buildings less than a year old that screamed mediocrity, just because they were not well-maintained.  Simple things, like a door not working properly, or a picture or signage that is crooked on the wall or the aforementioned stains in the carpet – all said in a subtle way, we don’t care.

I have also been in century-old buildings that are inspiring. The heating and cooling was up to date, the technology fit the space and worked well, and there were no dreaded stains in the carpet or evidence of great wear to be found.  Building that are well maintained convey a message of overall excellence.

People notice things and quickly form opinions. What are people’s perception and opinions of your building?

Purpose

With almost every project I am involved in, purpose has to continually be driven to the forefront.  As humans our personal interests become what is important, we push for things we want. Also, it becomes so easy to get focused on the process and the actual building, that we forget why we are doing it.  By understanding and keeping purpose the primary factor, helps bring clarity and also can keep us from getting hung up in the details.

Ask yourself these questions:
Is your building currently serving your needs?
Do you need to look at the form and function?
Does your building project excellence or an old worn-out shoe?
Do you know and understand the purpose of your building?

Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of a proposed building that you are planning. Work to make sure that it’s not just functional, but will be a facility of excellence which has the capacity to inspire, and brings beauty to all those who enter it’s doors.