Construction Planning: How to Start

Too frequently, churches learn about the importance of good design the hard way. To protect your congregation from losses arising from bad design and construction, you need to determine your needs, create a master plan, and choose qualified professionals to do the work. The more thoroughly you plan a project, the better your outcome is likely to be.

Build Your Vision

An expansion project can be exciting, but don't let enthusiasm overtake good judgment. Establish an organized process that will serve your church well.

Determine your needs. Assemble a vision team to help determine the church’s current and future ministry needs. The team should:

  • Survey affected staff and congregation members
  • Promote discussion on space use and potential growth.
  • Build consensus on the project's budget and priorities.

Plan for expansion. Consider all the possibilities. Decisions such as how to position a building on the property can limit the church's ability to enlarge parking areas or add meeting space.

Once the vision is agreed upon, appoint a planning team to work with an architect or design professional to determine the size of the building, quality of materials, and costs.

Create a Master Plan

Prioritize Your Needs. Your church may not be able to afford to build a structure that meets all of its needs at once. Start with what's essential now, but plan for 15 to 20 years down the road, too.

Build in Phases. Proceed one stage at a time and make choices that fit the big picture; for example, installing infrastructure that allows for expansion, such as a powerful air conditioning system. Resist taking a short-term approach that might yield a building complex with problems such as poor traffic flow and inconsistent climate control.

Invest in less obvious places. The wisest long-term use of church money can be in practical features like extra storage for expanding ministry needs or commercial-quality systems for heating/air conditioning, plumbing, and lighting.

Choose Qualified Professionals

Selecting the right people to design and build your structure is crucial decision to make.

Avoid volunteer labor. Using volunteer labor or having a church member serve as general contractor may seem like a money-saving idea, but the dangers, skill level, and time involved in many tasks require trained professionals. Members seldom have enough specific experience to oversee a church building project.

Also consider that your church insurance policy is probably not designed to cover injured volunteer's medical expenses, even if you have workers' compensation and builder's risk coverage. You have many options for hiring trained professionals:

  • Consider a Professional Design Firm. A firm experienced in working with churches can make the planning process easier.
  • Choose a Reputable Contractor. A good contractor will hire qualified subcontractors, complete the project on time and within budget, and deliver a solid final product. Contact your local building department, building contractors’ association, and the Better Business Bureau for information. The right people will be licensed and have at least five years' experience. Seek examples of your candidates' work, and collect references from several current or past clients.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you do hire:

  • Check for Insurance. Obtain proof that your candidates carry professional liability insurance, which will pay to repair mistakes made by the design professional or contractor. A typical builders’ risk insurance policy excludes coverage for designer or contractor error.
  • Work with an Attorney. Once you’ve chosen a designer and builder, have an attorney review all contracts before you sign them.