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Does Your Church Building Need More Space? Do THIS, not THAT!

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I like the simplicity of the popular nutrition book series Eat This, Not That by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding. Rather than presenting a one-size-fits-all solution, it educates readers about healthier alternatives to common food choices. My goal in this post is similar. While there is no single solution or magic formula that applies to your building program, below are some “do this, not that” tips to consider as you prayerfully approach your project.

Church Construction Best Practices

Do This: Address immediate needs first.
Not That: Jump into a construction project and then find out that you need to replace the roof, three air conditioners, and a church van.

Do an in-depth inspection of your facilities and their systems. Are there major deferred maintenance or repair issues that need to be addressed? Identify the issues and associated costs, and then make a plan. Leaving these items unattended can impact a building budget and/or general fund, causing negative ripple effects. Aim to address all immediate needs prior to exerting funds on a new project.

Do This: Maximize the benefit of your existing space before expanding.
Not That: Dismiss your current facilities because they are old, outdated, or seem dysfunctional.

It is important to fully utilize the space you have before starting a new building project. I once worked with a church that seemed to have outgrown their facilities, so they hired an architect. The architect, in turn, designed a $1.5 million sanctuary building. This would have been a wonderful solution if the church needed a sanctuary and if they could afford $1.5 million. Instead, they needed kids ministry and fellowship space, and their budget was $300,000. As we looked through their existing facilities, we determined that the basement level of the church was completely underutilized. With some strategic planning, we were able to help them renovate that space to meet their current ministry needs, all within their $300,000 budget.

Do This: Fully understand what you are buying and its limitations.
Not That: Assume you can move into an existing building and have service the next day or that you can build anything on the property you’re purchasing.

Whether buying land or an existing building, make sure you understand exactly what you can and cannot do with your purchase. Always get a full property inspection report when purchasing an existing building. There may be maintenance, repair, zoning, or code compliance issues that could throw the entire project off track financially and otherwise. If you’re buying land, consult with a civil engineer before purchasing the property. In certain situations, both for land and existing buildings, an environmental study may be necessary. Finally, confirm your intentions with the local building authority. Taking these precautions will help ensure that your purchasing decision is in line with your expectations.

Do This: Plan, bid, and plan some more.
Not That: Build or purchase land with assumed (or no) costs in mind.

Regardless of the scope of your project, define it as much as possible. Don’t begin without a firm plan and get firm bids throughout the process. For construction projects, carry a minimum ten percent contingency for cost overruns. Keep in mind that construction cost overruns are a when item not an if item. In other words, plan ahead. I have worked with many churches that are burdened with vacant land because they can’t afford to build on it. Others embark on a project with false assumptions about cost per square foot, resulting in an incomplete, inoperative building. In each of these scenarios, the church was seeking to meet their growing ministry needs. Instead, improper planning and false assumptions hindered rather than helped the church meet their needs.

Do This: Know what you can afford.
Not That: Design a project that exceeds your budget.

Most church building projects are a combination of at least two of three sources of funding: cash on hand, a capital campaign, and financing. Determine your financial parameters up front and design the project within those limits. Overspending will have far greater consequences than limiting your project to the confines of your budget.

Do This: Consider your unique calling.
Not That: Copy something another church has done.

Every ministry is unique and has an equally unique calling. Make every building decision through the lens of who you are as a church and what God has called you to do. Before you make a single decision or spend one dollar on your new building project, take time to step back and define the vision and resulting needs of your ministry. Then design, plan, and build your facilities with that vision in mind. You don’t need more of the wrong type of space – you need what will meet your needs. Don't make the mistake of assuming that what worked for the church down the road will work for you. From assessing your needs to opening the doors of your new space, let God and His calling for your ministry guide you throughout the building process.

Do This: Consider the big picture – inside and out.
Not That: Focus your entire budget on the design and structure.

Too often, money from a construction budget goes to fund the design or aesthetics of a structure without considering if the size or purpose of the structure meets the needs of the ministry. Budget items beyond construction such as insurance, city fees, chairs, sound, lighting, and video systems must also be considered. These items are not typically within the contractor’s responsibility. Figure these items into your budget from the beginning.

Do This: Enjoy the process.

A new building or renovation project is an exciting time for your church. You have the unique opportunity to watch your prayerfully considered project unfold and meet the needs of your growing ministry. In spite of the excitement, however, the process can sometimes be both overwhelming and intimidating. If you need any assistance with your building project, feel free to shoot me an email.

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

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