by Kurt Williams

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6. Managing Expectations – The Wants of the People vs. Budget

Pastors consistently noted that the expectations of the congregation were typically unrealistic in several areas. Facility modeling can help establish the expectations of the church as it relates to the amount of square footage needed to support the ministry, the costs associated with building the space, and the desired materials. Tools in the market can help you establish ballpark assessments of your ministry needs. Facility modeling is best done with the key leadership of your church. The key leaders typically have the best grasp of ministry needs (not wants) to support the vision and mission of the church. With this information, an early assessment of the size of the facility can be established, along with a preliminary budget to construct the facility. Make sure that you have a complete budget from a builder that includes not only the construction costs, but also the design and engineering, site work, fixtures and furnishings that will be needed once the facility is complete. Aligning ministry needs for building space with the ability to finance may seem obvious, but it’s often left out. The typical church has the $5 million vision and the $2 million ability to fund it. The time to adjust the expectations of the church is now. Before actually getting into the pre-construction phases of your process, you need to come to grips with the financial fact that you will probably not be able to build your entire vision in the first phase. Good expectation management will keep your building team on the right track from the beginning and keep them focused on the priorities of your ministry vision.

7. Stewardship Choices – Cheap Decisions Today Will Cost Tomorrow

There is a saying that the only place a building can be built under budget and with the best of all materials is in a building committee meeting. There will always be tension between the square footage needed for ministry, the funds available to build with and the quality of the materials you might use. A common crisis that churches face is too much building, not enough money.

Under the premise of stewardship, many churches will use cheaper materials so as to not decrease the size of the building. The National Association of Church Facility Managers has determined that in the first 40 years of a church facility’s life, the total costs involved with the project breakdown are as follows:

75 percent for maintenance, upkeep and repair

14.5 percent for finance costs and interest

10 percent for building construction costs

.5 percent for building contractor fees

A stewardship decision today often equates to a financial burden for the next generation. Every pastor surveyed who had been involved with choosing a cheaper material later regretted the decision. Make sure that all present and future costs are taken into account when wrestling with the balance of ministry space, money and materials.

8. Property Issues – The Requirements and Time Involved to Build on the Land

Many a pastor has been involved with the donation or purchase of the perfect piece of ground for the church. The due diligence part of any land purchase can make or break a deal. With the church, it is absolutely critical. Several factors affect the actual amount of land usable for construction. It is during a site analysis that churches may find that they cannot meet the growth of their ministry at their current location and need to acquire adjoining property or investigate relocation.

A detailed site challenge analysis will supply information that is absolutely critical in the development of the master plan, as well as establishing the costs involved in developing the property. Key issues that a site challenge analysis should address include zoning, neighborhood issues and requirements/covenants, permit fees and restrictions, parking requirements, egress/ingress issues, right-of-way expansion, easements and set backs, landscaping and green space requirements, topography, wetlands, flood plains/flood ways, storm water retention, water and sewer/well and septic requirements, and environmental hazards and concerns.

A comprehensive site master plan should be part of the ministry plan for your property; some might even call this a vision plan. Master planning is a topic all to itself. It suffices to say that a master plan showing land development out to five, seven and 10 years should be clearly defined prior to breaking ground on the first phase. Pastors have been surprised many years later how a simple mistake made 10 years ago in the middle of their 20-acre parcel of land has hampered their future building plans or cost them significant amounts of money to rectify.

9. Building Codes – The State and Local Requirements to Build

The number of requirements and the costs associated with compliance to meet the building code were surprises to most pastors. Though the burden to meet the building code requirements fell on the designer, the costs associated with them became the burden of the church. Some codes such as the American Disabilities Act are fairly well-known and easy to comply with. Other codes dealing with issues such as wind loads, snow loads, dead loads and live loads are less obvious, but very important for the design and regulatory approvals by your state and local building permit office. Other important issues that your designer should be familiar with are the codes regarding insulation and ventilation, fire sprinklers, plumbing, HVAC (heating and cooling) and electrical. Each area of the country has unique adaptations of the major national building codes that have been changed for that specific geography or fire concern. Make sure that your team is familiar and has experience with your locale.

10. Building Plans – Can You Read and Understand the Plans?

Almost every pastor struggled with understanding or reading the building plans. In every situation, the design-builder reviewed the plans, page by page, but much of the detail was lost. Pastors that asked the design-builder to slow down or explain in more detail came to understand very important elements of the design. The surveyed pastors advised having the building committee chairman (not the pastor) familiar with the plans and all of the details of the project, as well as having an open, trusting relationship with the builder. This allowed the pastor and the building chairman to relax about the finer points of the plans and to rely on the expertise of their design-build team for a good result.

11. Kicking the People Out – The Building Is Not the Destination

Pastors thought there was a tendency to stop and relax after the building project was complete. Some felt their congregations stopped all together because the goal – the building – was complete. The building is not the destination; it is simply a tool for ministry. More than a few of the pastors referred to “kicking people out” of the building to reach out to others in need of the Gospel. A building project can be tiring, and a time of celebration and relaxation is to be encouraged and expected. Reminding the people from the very beginning of the process that the building is actually for reaching out to others tends to lessen the downtime that the congregations needed before getting out and sharing the excitement of their new building with others in the community.

Every building project is an adventure. Partnering with those who have a heart to serve the Lord can make what could be a time of ministry distraction a time of ministry focus. Challenges happen, but with the wisdom of others who have survived the building process and the advice of kingdom-minded design and build professionals, those challenges can be greatly reduced.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” – Proverbs 15:22

“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding.” – Proverbs 3:13

Kurt Williams is a design-build veteran at T&W Church Solutions ( He’s spent more than two decades in the industry, 18 of those years guiding more than 90 churches through the various stages of discovering, designing and building their new facilities. T&W Corp. serves the churches of Central Indiana and is an active contributing member of the NACDB. Williams can be reached at [email protected].

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