Is It Time to Build?

How to know if it's time for your church to launch a construction project--and eight steps you must take toalt complete your plan successfully.
It was a typically warm and sunny four days in Orlando, Florida, as roughly 60 ministry leaders representing local congregations, parachurch organizations and marketplace professionals gathered for a national prayer summit. The prayer of Jabez served as the focal point of prayer: "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory" (1 Chr. 4:10, NKJV).

Oh, the many times pastors have prayed that prayer with the desire that God would bless their ministries and grow His church. And when He does, and these pastors find themselves facing the prospect of a building project to accommodate the blessings of God, how often the prayer of Jabez becomes the prayer of Jesus: " 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me'" (Luke 22:42, NIV). It's as if nothing can bring church leadership to their knees faster than the prospect of a construction project of one sort or another.

It doesn't have to be that way.

As you consider a construction project for your church or ministry organization, we would recommend you take into account the following eight-step process to ensure a successful experience.

1. Begin with your mission and vision statements. Having a clear, concise statement telling your congregation and the world why your church exists is imperative. Too often, churches' mission and vision statements are too general or too vague.

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A good vision statement will ask and answer the question, "What specifically does God want us to do?" One church we know had as part of their vision statement, "to reach every home in our city every year with the gospel of Jesus Christ." Their statement then told them how they were going to implement and fulfill their vision. Another church has the vision "to be a destination church, where 10,000 people can come and be ministered to, so that they can minister to others."

We recommend working with a firm that understands your vision, is capable of assisting you in clarifying your vision if necessary and is capable of turning that vision into facilities that allow the vision to flourish.

2. Know your financial capabilities. Too many churches bite off more than they can chew. In their excitement and enthusiasm for building something new or renovating something old, they have plans drawn up they cannot afford to build.

Through our relationships with church builders and church architects nationwide, we have discovered that perhaps as much as $40 million in blueprints have been thrown away in the last three to four years. You must know what you can afford to spend and to finance. You must know what your financing options are and choose the one best for you. Nothing deflates the enthusiasm of a congregation faster than being told that the $2 million addition they are salivating over is going to really cost $3.5 million.

Some churches refuse to finance anything; some try to finance way too much. We recommend your debt load not exceed 25 percent of your annual revenue (that is, dollars actually collected), so that 75 percent can be used to finance your ministries. Work with a firm that will help you with the financial components of your project.

3. Conduct proper forums for preplanning. You must remember at least two things about any building project. The first is that it must be ministry-driven. This means you and your congregation understand that the church is not bricks and mortar. The building is first and foremost a tool for ministry. Therefore, proper preplanning is essential so that the facilities you build are appropriate and adequate for the ministries that will take place there.

The second thing to remember is that your new facilities are not being built primarily for your current congregation. They are being built for those you are trying to reach and add to your congregation.

Everyone in your church has a vested interest in any building project. The potential for emotions to run at fever pitch is high. This step, being guided by your mission and vision statements, will assist all involved to maintain the proper attitudes, spirit and direction.

4. Assess your site. Before the drawings begin, it is important to know what you can and cannot do on your site. Where can you build? What city/county codes must you follow? How much parking must you have?

Are there water drainage/flooding issues? How much green space is required? These are but a few of the potentially dozens of questions that must be asked.

Why are these important? The answers to these questions and others like them will cause you to determine what, if anything, gets built.

Other questions include: What gets built first? Can you do all you want to do on your current site? Will you plant new churches, or will you move once you maximize your property? If you sell so that you can move, is it better to sell your property with a church building on it, with nothing on it or something in between?

Know what you have to work with. And know how that accommodates God's desires for your ministry.

5. Create a long-term master plan. The importance of a master plan cannot be overemphasized. It will assist you in knowing who you are, who you are becoming, where you are going and how you're going to get there.

A good master plan not only allows you to proceed strategically in the direction God is taking you, but it also serves as a tremendous tool for raising the significant funds you will need to build out your church campus over time. A master plan helps your congregation establish a legacy that will live on long after all of you are gone.

Unfortunately, we have been involved with two congregations in the last year that have closed their doors forever. Both had a tremendous past. Both lost their sense of mission and vision. Both rejected plans for ministry and campus development for their futures. As a result, neither has a future. They no longer exist. A master plan will keep God's dream for you alive.

6. Understand how to raise money. There are many good, reputable firms that have had a great deal of success assisting local churches in raising the necessary capital to start their building projects.

Our recommendation is to choose a firm that will: (1) support your mission and vision; (2) allow you to meet with the person who will be assigned to your church as the primary contact throughout the capital campaign; and (3) use your master plan as a tool for ongoing stewardship.

Some organizations will charge you a flat fee based on certain criteria. Many will charge you a percentage of the funds raised and/or pledged. Most will guarantee satisfaction.

You may end up spending many thousands of dollars. However, a good fund-raising organization will earn its money by saving you time and effort that you can ill afford to spend, as well as helping you raise considerably more than if you tried to go it alone. Check out several and choose wisely.

7. Decide early on the method of your project's design and construction. Our experience of more than 25 years in the commercial construction industry has convinced us of this: The absolutely best method for church-related construction projects is known as the design/build method.

The design/build method is gaining tremendous popularity in the church construction industry. A design/build firm that specializes in the construction of churches and church campus development will prove invaluable to you in time and cost savings. You will have a team that will communicate with you and work at a level with you that simply is not available in the traditional design-bid-build approach.

You will also have a better system of checks and balances that will lead to greater satisfaction for you and your church. You will have fewer costly change orders, fewer delays and less finger-pointing than in the more potentially contentious and too often acrimonious design-bid-build process.

The process of schematic design and design development, the creation of construction documents and the actual construction of your project flow much more efficiently and effectively when you choose the design/build method for your church.

8. Insist your design and construction team be there for you after the project is completed. There is no substitute for good, old-fashioned, ongoing customer support. When you choose a firm to build your facilities, make sure they rate as high or higher in the area of ongoing support as they did in construction capability.

A good firm realizes that excellent customer service, during and after your project is completed, is not a thing of the past. It is the thing that keeps them in business.

The church-building process does not have to be a long, drawn out, stressful affair. Done properly and well, it is a part of the ongoing excitement of seeing God at work in your congregation and in your community.

Dennis Doyle is co-founder and chief executive officer of Minneapolis-based Welsh Companies, which provide full-service expertise in the construction and real estate industries.
Dale Witherington is director of the company's community-development team. Log on to their Web site at or call (952) 897-7700.

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