Construction Pitfalls to Avoid
By: Bill Easum
During my 24-year tenure at my last church, I had the dubious privilege of being involved in 21 different construction projects ranging all the way from adding a new street to building two worship centers. These 21 projects over 24 years taught me several valuable lessons that I'd like to pass on to you to help you avoid some of the natural construction pitfalls.
Putting Ministry on Hold During Construction
Perhaps the most fatal mistake pastors make during their first and maybe only construction project is putting most ministry on hold. The pastor becomes so involved in building committee meetings, talking with architects, etc. that most of his/her time is consumed by the project. What happens then is that whatever momentum the church had when entering the project is lost.
Because we were in a building project most of the time, I had to learn to balance and protect my time. I couldn't allow the building projects to distract me or the church from the mission, and you must do the same even if you are involved in only one building project during your ministry.
Making the Building Project the Mission
Closely akin to the first pitfall is promoting the building project as if it is the mission of the church. And, when the project is over, the leaders go into a blue funk. Buildings should never be promoted as a mission but as a tool to accomplishing a mission. So, be careful how to promote the project. Always lead by showing what will be accomplished because of having the new space.
Building Without Adding Staff
Closely akin to the second pitfall is adding space to accommodate more people without adding staff to disciple them. I'm a firm believer that if you can't afford to add staff, you can't afford to build, especially if it is a new worship center. What happens is the new worship center causes a bounce in attendance, often as high as 30 percent, and then, over the next year, it decreases to the original attendance because there wasn't enough staff to connect with and disciple the new people.
One of the things I try to do when consulting is get the church to include in the fund raising two years worth of salary for one or two new staff people. Depending on the amount being raised, the two salaries don't impact the payback nearly as much as paying for those staff out of the budget.
Trusting Sound to the Architect
Architects seldom understand the importance of quality sound in a worship center, so never build a worship center without also hiring a sound engineer. I remember having a knock-down, drag-out session with the architects during the construction of both worship centers. The first time, I didn't get a sound engineer and the result was awful. The second time, it still took some convincing to get the building committee to fork over the money for a sound engineer. If we had failed to do that during the construction of the second worship center, we would have had a major disaster due to the size and shape of the building.
Pastors should never forget that quality sound is now one of the most important, and often most expensive, parts of construction in a worship center. The sound should be designed for speaking and not for music or organ. This means you don't want a "live" building. You can tell if a building is live by clapping your hand once and listening to the amount of reverberation. You don't want any reverberation at all. And, don't listen to the typical choir director who wants a "live" building. Instead, just drive the sound with microphones.
Putting the Parking Lot Behind the Worship Center
Architects love to showcase their work, so they try to put the building as close to the street as they can. Take a drive by most mainline congregations and you'll notice that most sanctuaries are close to the street with the parking lot behind. Now take a drive by your nearest Walmart and notice that the parking lot is in front of the building. It's there because Walmart wants you to come in. They don't showcase their building; they showcase convenience. So, never give your architect free reign. Instead, tell him or her that you want the public to always be able to see the parking.
Eliminating Parking to Add More Building
I've never understood why any church would eliminate parking to add another building, especially if they are short in the first place. It's as if they believe that most people still walk to worship. Folks, make sure you have an off-street parking space for every two people at your peak hour at the peak season.
Let's visit Walmart again. When was the last time you saw their parking lot full? My guess is you answered, "The day after Thanksgiving." That's because they provide parking based on their peak day of the year. For the church, that would be Easter!
Building Without Knowing Why
About 15 years ago, I was working in a church that was in deep financial trouble due to building a fellowship hall/gym a few years earlier and now the payments were killing them. I asked them why they built the gym and what they expected it to do for them. You're not going to believe their answer: "The Baptists built a gym a few years back and they are growing. We thought we would grow too if we built a gym." I then asked them what they planned on doing in the gym and they didn't have a clue. What they didn't realize was the Baptists not only had a plan for the use of the building, they also had a youth director who was responsible for making the plan work.
This example is not an isolated one. I've seen churches hire an architect without the slightest idea of what they wanted to happen in the new building. They just watched other churches build and grow and they thought that is all there is to it. So, before hiring an architect, decide why you need the facility, what you are going to do with it, how you are going to fill it, and what staff will you need to accomplish your goal.
Thinking an Architect Is the Best Way to Build
Most church leaders think the building project should always begin with hiring an architect and then putting the plans out for bid. Usually, the result is that the bids are more than the architect's estimate and either the church has to raise more money or cut back on the plans. Cutting back on the plans means the architect's fee goes up.
There is a much better way. Use a church construction firm. These firms do everything from preliminary plan and design to the actual construction. This ensures that the costs are in line with your budget. In addition, church construction is all these firms do. This also means you may not have to hire a sound engineer.
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.