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.

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.