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So You Want To Build A Church.....

Jan 22, 2008
We needn't look further than I Chronicles 17:1-4 to capture the heart of the challenges of a church building project. Recall King David's conversation with Nathan the prophet: "Behold, I am dwelling in a house of cedar, but the Ark of the Covenant is under a tent." David felt guilty for living in a better-constructed, more comfortable place than the Ark, and Nathan advised him to follow his heart. There was one small problem, though: Later that night, the Lord instructed Nathan tell David not to build a new house.

All this applies today, when building projects can catapult churches to new levels of growth and momentum or cause them to spin out of control, leading to squandered resources and damaged reputations -- especially if the Lord's hand isn't in it.

So, let's assume the Lord has told you to build His house -- what's next? In previous articles, we've examined the process of carefully master planning a building project, which includes determining your financial capabilities and evaluating the environmental, code, zoning, parking and water retention impacts of your land. Now you're looking to determine your church's long-range goals as they translate to optimal space usage for ministry enhancement.

What if God Gives You a Dream?

In Bruce Wilkinson's new book, Dream Giver, the main character, Ordinary, pursues a big dream. What he doesn't realize is, the vision God gave him was a picture of the end result, not the beginning.

The ministry is full of people with big dreams who think the Lord wants them to fulfill such visions in their entirety right now. Instead, these visions might reflect the culmination of lifetime's work, not the starting point. Take Joseph, for example -- God gave him a dream. Little did Joseph know, however, the heartache and trials he'd endure trying to make it happen. Nor did he realize his dream was the outcome, not the start.

As they relate to buildings and space, most ministry visions are limited to the land's capacity to handle parking, setback requirements and drainage issues, as well as the church's financial capabilities and blessings. Once parameters regarding the maximum allowable square footage are established, it's time to examine how your current space will enhance, or harm, the overall vision and master plan, and whether or not you need to start thinking instead about relocating.

Make the Most of What You've Got

The other day, I visited a church that welcomes about 1,600 people on Sunday mornings. Feeling a space crunch, leaders wanted to modify their existing building to accommodate future growth. Given the facility's total square footage -- about 25,000 -- I was surprised to find it so cramped. (One minister's office is even located in a 25-square-foot space originally intended to be a broom closet!) So, although this church can seat 1,500 people in the sanctuary, its administrative offices, classrooms, hallways, the narthex and fellowship spaces were grossly lacking.

To avoid a similar problem at your own church, follow a simple rule of thumb: For every person onsite at a given time, designate 45 to 50 square feet. For example, if you have a congregation of 500, you'll need a total facility space, including existing areas, of 22,500 square feet to 27,500 square feet.

Unfortunately, many churches are caught in a catch-22: They don't have a strong enough giving base to support their growing attendance figures. If you fall into this category, how can you maximize your facilities?

Conduct a space analysis. The first step is to fully understand how you use, or don't use, your existing space. Imagine you own a 3,000-square-foot home where you, your spouse and five children live. Your bedrooms, living area and kitchen are large enough, but you only have a half-bathroom. Your tendency might be to look for a bigger house, adding to the living room, kitchen space and bedroom spaces when, in fact, you only need to add two bathrooms.

As it relates to your church home, heed a few more guidelines: Host multiple services. By reducing the number of people on your campus at a given time, you can significantly reduce your space needs. This is why so many churches have started offering two, three and four services.

Examine timing and use. When your congregation grows, conduct a solid assessment of what space is being used, by whom and at what times. Examine traffic patterns. This information might help you adopt ministry habits that are better suited to your current facility.

Consider temporary facilities. Once you've identified the major pressure points, you can add temporary facilities to your campus until building new becomes an option.

Consider Building Positioning, Proximity

Though I've known many church leaders who've rushed out to build their next building without any thought to overall campus design, if you have a well-planned vision of your ministry needs, it's time to start thinking about practical issues that impact the worship experience and everyday life. Some important questions:

How far will my people have to walk to get where they're going?
What happens if it rains?
What will we do to facilitate handicapped and elderly visitors?
Will parents enjoy easy drop-off at the church?
Will the building's position enhance or detract from its overall aesthetics and rooflines?

Although many of these might seem obvious, you'd be surprised how often they're thrown aside. The better you understand your vision and your people, the easier it will be to plan your new facility.

Architecture has always played a dramatic role in the worship experience. The intregal interplay of sound, light, colors and textures - all working in concert to create an atmosphere that is both warm and worshipful, inspiring and inviting. Today's church has at its disposal a wide range of modern construction methodologies and technologies capable of enhancing worship as never before. The National Association of Church Design Builders can show you how to plan and build a facility that is as beautiful as it is worshipful. Our knowledge of the latest architectural trends provides an invaluable resource for budgeting and planning your next facility.

Type of Area
Recommended Space Allocation

Sanctuary/Adult Education
12 square feet to 15 square feet per person

Narthex
15 percent to 25 percent of sanctuary seating area

Pre-School
35 square feet per person

Children's Education/Daycare
25 square feet per person

Multipurpose
18 square feet to 25 square feet per person

Parking
100 cars per acre

What Does Your Building "Say?"

Think for a moment about the buildings you pass every day, be they hotels, homes, businesses or other churches. How would you describe your first impression of each, and why? The Ritz Carlton, for instance, makes the statement that its guests are special and will be treated as such. On the other hand, some motels say, "We're cheap, but we'll keep the light on for you."

What does your building say? Are your children's spaces cramped, with blank walls, or do they sport colorful murals or interactive Disney esque play stations that shout, "We care about our littlest members!" Does your sanctuary look very sleek -- for the 1950's -- or does it meet your modern-day target ministry's demands?

The challenge for any church and its chosen design/construction team is to match ministry philosophy and construction costs with the statements you and your members want to make. Consider enlisting a group of non-members to offer their impressions. Do they mesh with your own vision of the church?

Financial Positioning, Phasing

Now, going back to the story of Ordinary in the Dream Giver, you must ask yourself if you're living the vision God has granted. Sure, you might have been shown a 150,000-square-foot campus on 45 acres, complete with a glassed-in sanctuary -- but you're currently worshipping in a 9,000- square-foot leased building, have $3,000 in the bank and welcome 300 worshippers per service.

One thing I've learned about God is that He's still in the business of miracles. I've seen Him bless churches with facilities and building projects that seemed impossible without His involvement. On the other hand, I've also witnessed ministry leaders run ahead of Him and falsely assume He's going to complete their entire life's work in one year, leading to disappointment and stalled projects.

Get Real About What You Can Afford

The next step is phasing your building project to match your church's financial capabilities. Scriptures tell us to count the cost before building a tower -- to know our own limitations, not God's. His power is unlimited; ours isn't.

In phasing a project, it's extremely important to design the first phase within your ministry's means. Once this has been established, you can begin Phase 1.

No doubt you're asking yourself, "Where's God in all this?" It's absolutely true that He can do it all...but will He? Plan Phase 1 to match your maximum human capabilities, seek wisdom in many counselors and then watch Him work.
About the Author
Bruce Anderson is a nationally recognized church design and construction consultant and President of Build-Masters Group LLC, www.build-masters.com. Mr. Anderson also publishes of "Straight Talk" About Church Design,Building & Construction at www.brucecanderson.com. Email: bca@brucecanderson.com
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