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Church Construction: Building Your Building Team

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How do you assemble a building team? Your church is a unique blend of people with its own leadership culture and decision-making process. Some churches prefer the diversity of opinion that a committee offers, while others find it easier to limit input to a select group of advisors.

As you work on defining the leadership structure for your building program, consider how this project may differ from other church business. For example:

  • Investment. It’s typically the biggest investment of finances, time, and energy that your church will ever make.
  • Commitment. Those involved in the project can’t just make a motion, vote, and walk away. Instead, church building projects are an ongoing (and demanding) process.
  • Finality. Changing decisions throughout the building process can greatly increase your costs. The more decisions you keep throughout the process the smoother your project will go.
  • Expertise. A building project is more than just carpet and paint color. It is a specialized and complex process that includes dealing with contractors and other experts in the field.

A traditional building committee involves a cross-section of the congregation in an effort to receive input that represents the entire church body. While this approach brings many ideas and opinions to the table, it can also muddle the process. A large group can also create logistical issues when it comes to gathering together to make frequent or timely decisions.

When it comes to putting a building committee in place, consider the following options:

  • Small and Specialized. I recently met with a multi-site church of several thousand who had a building committee of one person. This may be extreme, but the idea with this approach is that less is more.
  • Design/Build Team. If you know who your architect and/or contractor will be, consider making them part of the team. Personally, I sit on more than one building committee as the lender’s representative and provide input to the process from that perspective.
  • Full Building Committee and Executive Committee. This is the closest to a traditional approach where there is a larger representation of the congregation that makes up the full committee. However, it also includes a small, specialized group to make the final decisions.
  • Evolutionary Approach.In this option, there is a different team for each stage of a project:
    • Initial Project Conception. The pastor and/or board are the key members of this initial team, as they should be the first to know when it’s time to consider a project.
    • Feasibility. This small group may be comprised of mainly board and staff leadership. They will begin setting some parameters for the project. How much can we afford? What are our potential funding sources? What do we need to build? Do we need to step back and create a master plan or comprehensive long-term strategy for our facilities? This team will flush out priorities, needs, and available resources.
    • Financing. Some church cultures would dictate that the board maintains this role, while others appoint a committee that reports to the board. Either way, there will be plenty of details to consider regarding construction loans, temporary and permanent financing, capital campaigns, etc.
    • Master Planning. Master planning is the process of creating a comprehensive long-term strategy for your facilities. While this stage is not always part of the building process, it is often a necessity for more complex projects, new site construction, or projects that involve multiple buildings or phases. This team should involve outside consultants like a civil engineer, architect, builder, or design-build company.
    • Project Schematics and Design. This is the stage where a larger committee might be necessary in order to define the project, plan it, and work with the consultants. Make the designers and builders part of this team if possible. Collaboration among the professionals you are using for your project saves time and typically results in a building that meets the ministry need while staying within the budget parameters.
    • Final Design, Contract Negotiations and Construction. This is a stage where I would once again recommend a small, specialized “Executive Building Committee” made up of 3 or 4 people who can easily and quickly convene, make decisions, protect the pastor, and report back to the board. This team is appointed by the board and given certain boundaries within which to make decisions without slowing down the process.

As you build your team, I recommend appointing a single point person or “quarterback” to help lead the project. The point person will be part of the building team, but will be able to place the project as a higher priority than other team members. They will keep the project on track as they coordinate participants, maintain the schedule, facilitate communications, etc. Establishing a point person will also reduce some of the project responsibilities that often fall on the pastor. Some churches even hire someone to fill this role as an “owner’s representative”.

Regardless of how you approach the leadership structure for planning and overseeing your church building program, do it intentionally, transparently, and boldly. Avoid making the mistake of bringing the masses to the decision when you should take the decision to the masses. Transparency and good communication can go a long way toward involving a congregation in a project without encumbering the process with too many people and opinions. The top reason people give to stewardship initiatives in building projects is because they trust their leadership. Take confidence in that trust and:

  • Seek God
  • Establish the Vision – what has He called you to do?
  • Develop the Mission – how has He called you to do it?
  • Execute – with boldness and as servant-leaders, be transparent in what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and keep everyone informed.

Have you gone through a church building project? How did you assemble your building team? We’d like to hear your story through the comment section below.

Shawn M. Fink
Construction and Facilities Solutions
sfink@agfinancial.org

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