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How to Pick the Right Design-Builder

What are your needs? How do you know who to trust?

Do not base your church building selection on lowest price – make a determination on which design-builder gives you the most VALUE for your budget. The selection process can be simplified by using the following guidelines:

1. Understand both your short and long-term needs.
2. Ask the right questions of the design-builder.
3. Listen for the right questions.

What Are Your Needs?
Before you start the selection process, understand your congregation’s specific needs. Everyone wants the most space for the least amount of money and would like to build everything at once.

However, most churches grow their facilities in phases. By prioritizing your ministry’s short and long-term needs (e.g., youth center first or bigger sanctuary first), you can make your design-builder selection process easier by matching their experience and expertise with your project requirements.

Be prepared to answer the following questions. They may seem simple, but you’d be surprised at how many churches don’t really have a clear or consistent reply.

* Who are we trying to reach?
* What building (or buildings) will help us reach them?
* What can we afford?
* How do we propose to afford it? (stewardship campaign, financing, sale of existing facility?)
* Where should it be (neighborhood, freeway, inner city)?
* When do we want it finished?
* What do we do with our congregation until it is finished?
* How do we handle the growth once it is built?

Take some time to sit down and brainstorm with your team about your ministry and your congregation’s needs. Use the questions above to hone in on what are priorities and what can be completed in another phase.

Including your design-builder in these meetings or sharing your responses with them will be vital to healthy growth. Your design-builder will become part of your team and should be able to help you determine the best use of space for your ministry, so choose a design-builder who will fit well in your team and understands your ministry needs. As a first step, learn to ask the right questions of the design-builder.

What Questions to Ask a Design-Builder Before Hiring Them
Though the construction of church facilities shares many commonalities with retail development, the decision-making and communication processes are VERY different. Accordingly, you should choose a design-builder with specific church experience. Some suggested questions are:
* Have you had experience designing and building Christian worship facilities?
* Have you worked on projects similar to mine?
* What is your process – how do you determine what we should build?
* What are options to lower square footage costs?
* Will you provide me with a guaranteed maximum cost?
* What are the inevitable challenges you face on every church project?
* What were some of the specific challenges you have encountered on your past church projects?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions; the more you ask, the more you’ll know what to expect. Asking questions is also a good way to continue dialoging about what is important to you and your church.  Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to get to know the design-builder better, which can ultimately lead to more trust and confidence in your decisions. 

Lastly, learn how to listen for the right questions.

What Will an Experienced Design-Builder Ask?
You can gage the design-builder’s experience by the questions THEY ask of you. Here’s some of the things you should be hearing:
* What is your membership?
* What is your average worship attendance (AWA)?
* How many services do you have on Sunday?
* What are the times of the services?
* What is your average education attendance for:
-Adults                                                                                                                                       -College Students
-High School
-Junior High School
-Grades 3-5
-Grades K-2
* What times are you offering education?
* What are the age demographics of your congregation?
* What are your historical growth rates?
* What is your current growth rate trend?
* What age demographic is your projected growth coming from?
* What style music do you have? Traditional / Contemporary / Both?
* What kind of musical instruments do you have?

Note that these questions are directed at understanding who your church is. A good church design-builder will capture the essence of your heart and direction and apply their experience to suggest a variety of design and building options that suit your needs. You should avoid letting them steer you toward any one option simply because that is the only experience they have.

This information is courtesy of the National Association of Church Design Builders (NACDB), www.nacdb.com.

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