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The Problem with Vision Erosion

December 18, 2017 — by John Parker


There are thousands of churches across the United States, and each church has its own story and uniqueness. How is that story being communicated, internally and externally? Does your church communicate who you are?


Imagine that you’re redesigning your church. Your main goal is to effectively convey the story of your missions and programs. Your church has some great programs that include providing shoes for children, digging wells to provide clean water, and sponsoring various overseas mission trips. Missions are the heartbeat of your church. You envision that all of the communication and interaction surrounding missions is going to happen in your church’s lobby, café, or other gathering areas.


So, you hire an architect. He knows the vision, but his main focus is on the facility—what the walls, floors, and ceilings of the building will look like—not necessarily what will go inside of it. Then, a contractor comes along. He’s going to build out the space, and he’s aware that there may be some items that might go on the walls. At some point in the process, the contractor realizes he’s missing some area. He needs to use another wall for some storage, and needs another space to put an information booth.


The project is completed. You’ve got a lobby that has an information booth and shelving to display items from the countries where your church hosts mission trips. It’s a nice lobby—but something’s missing. Your initial vision has completely been eliminated. Why? Because the architect and contractor weren’t in tune with your primary goal: to build out a space that would communicate your church’s main goal of missions and outreach.


When I worked for Disney, we found that the story and vision for a particular ride, attraction or land that we developed was so important that we actually had a show producer write the script for the narrative of an area. Even when it came to describing a merchandise shop, the narrative told the story of what that merchandise store was supposed to be and even the backstory of the family that may have owned it. All of these details informed those who were involved to keep true to the story of the space.


The reality is, if you don’t have a consistent, cohesive team that is part of the original narrative and walking through the entire build process together, you’re ultimately going to experience some level of VISION EROSION. Designers, architects, and contractors involved in the project will often make decisions and choices without the benefit of being informed, thereby eroding the final product.


The problem of vision erosion doesn’t just apply to construction. In almost anything, whether you’re developing a script or in the planning stages of a wedding, those initial discussions you have are important because they set the basis for the larger narrative of what you’re trying to accomplish. There is a huge benefit to having a team that knows your vision from the beginning and can make informed decisions throughout the process that align with those initial goals.


Here at Visioneering, we have the great benefit of having continuity and context for all the Design-Build projects we work on. Our entire team knows the story that accompanies your vision, and our designers and contractors work together to craft that vision and build a project that uses your money and time wisely. We believe that every building tells a story, and every space is unique. Our Design-Build process is design-led and centered around highlighting the larger narrative of your organization. Through Design-Build, we can help you develop a different kind of build—one that stewards both your story and your space well— so you can launch your inspired vision into reality.


This article is an excerpt from our free resource, DEMOLISHED. Download your copy today at If you’d like to eliminate vision erosion from your building process today, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

vision erosion


Shouldn’t a Church Look Like…

August 4, 2014 — by Jody Forehand

church building

I hope you are ready to jump into some controversy with me today because I’m going to talk about things that many Christians (and many “church architects”) take personally and seriously…what a church “should” look like. But, I may surprise you with the analysis if you think you know where I’m heading because at Visioneering Studios, we are challenging the way people think about the purpose and design of church facilities from the ground up.

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. Let’s start with the definition of “church”. Webster’s defines “church” as, “1) a group of Christians; any group professing Christian doctrine or belief; 2) a place for public (especially Christian) worship.” Is this definition in alignment with the Biblical definition of “church”? The Greek word for church is “ekklesia”, which means “that which is called out,” and that is the only word for Church in the whole Bible (and it is only used in the New Testament). Obviously this is talking about the people who have been “called out” and become followers of Jesus. Jesus even said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Wherever followers of Christ gather together there is the church. So, how did we get so confused and hung up on the form and structure of a building that we refer to as the “church” and that to most people, especially non-Christians, is seen as THE church? Jesus’ first “church” services took place on hillsides or beside lakes while he spoke from a boat. The disciples first “church” service (the day of Pentecost) took place in the temple court. First century churches met in houses and wherever there was room for people to gather.

Clockwise from top left - St. Peters, God's Creation, Traditional Church, Metal Box
Clockwise from top left - St. Peters, God's Creation, Traditional Church, Metal Box
Somewhere along the way “churches” started to become buildings, and they became “sacred” spaces that required design of a certain type. I can stand amazed in front of St. Peter’s in Rome or any number of other cathedrals throughout the world and feel staggeringly overwhelmed at the intricacy and details involved in those structures, but I can also stand awestruck in a forest or on a beach and wonder about the miracle of God’s creation. I can sit in a “traditional” church complete with stained glass, steeple, and pews and be lifted up before God’s throne in worship, but I can also sit in a pre-engineered metal warehouse with a small group of believers who have scraped together all they had to build their first building and be touched to my soul by a stirring message delivered from a down-to-earth preacher.

What we all have to realize is that “traditional” or “contemporary” are just man-made concepts that are totally unrelated to salvation. It may seem patently obvious to state it this way, but Jesus didn’t sit in a pew or a theater seat. He didn’t sing from a hymnal while a pipe organ played or sing with words on a screen while a band rocked out. He didn’t wear a suit and tie or a t-shirt and shorts. He didn’t preach in a church with stained glass windows and a steeple, or in a church with a coffee shop and a video venue.

The message of the Bible is timeless, but the presentation of the message is cultural. Jesus reached people where they were in that day and time in a method and in a location that they could be comfortable and relate to (see John 4:4-26 about the Samaritan woman at the well). I strongly believe that if Jesus was walking around in America today He would be using technology, music, buildings, and everything else at His disposal as tools to reach people where they are.

Northside Christian Church - Spring, TX.  Design by Visioneering Studios.  Photo by G. Lyon Photography.
Northside Christian Church - Spring, TX. Design by Visioneering Studios. Photo by G. Lyon Photography.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with traditional buildings, or pipe organs, or hymals, but I would ask you to look in your heart and ask yourself if your church is being as effective as they could be in reaching your community and the unchurched in today’s culture using methods and facility protoypes created hundreds of years ago. Would you like your doctor to use leeches and other medical “technology” of a few hundred years ago to treat you today? I wouldn’t, which is why I think it is important to examine the methods we use to “treat” those in need of the ultimate healing. What type of places and buildings do people choose to go to spend their free time? What type of music do people choose to listen to on their iPods? Churches need to be offering their community what their community needs. The church facility can be a 7-day-a-week Christ-centered community instead of a 2-hour-a-week Christian insider’s club.

Don’t ever compromise the message. Don’t ever change the story of salvation. But, maybe it’s time to look at the method and environment where that message is shared. Is it more important to keep things they way they’ve always been because the people who are already “saved” and are already inside the walls of the church like it that way? Or is it better to find out what will reach those outside of the walls and make them comfortable stepping foot inside the doors of your church even if it makes the “insiders” uncomfortable? Are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to reach out to others? Isn’t that why the church exists? All I’m asking is for you to think about it. Be intentional.


To Build or Not To Build

July 21, 2014 — by Jody Forehand

To Build or Not to Build

I doubt that anything I am writing here is really earth shattering news. Most of it is common sense, but as is often the case, common sense can be clouded by tunnel vision, tradition, thinking inside the box, and “not seeing the forest for the trees.” Hopefully from my experience working with churches all over the country you’ll find some information presented here that will make your project a smooth and successful endeavor.

My first piece of advice is to make sure you really need to build anything at all. This may sound too elementary or too simple. If you’re reading this it is probably because you did a Google search looking for church design or church construction advice because you are already convinced that your church needs more space.

In my experience too many churches look at their current facilities and say, “We’re out of space and need to build a new addition,” or, “We’ve outgrown this facility and need to sell it and move to a new bigger site.” Often I have found when touring their church that they have a very inefficient layout and that some simple first steps could buy them more time and create “space” for growth. Sometimes this has little to do with the building or site, and everything to do with programming or tradition.

If you are only offering one worship service and you are out of space, the obvious answer is to add another service and instantly you have doubled your capacity without building a square foot of new space. As obvious as this is, I’ve heard some churches push back and say that they can’t do this because they would no longer see all their friends (or some other similarly lame excuse). If your church’s goal is in alignment with Jesus’ command to reach the unchurched then this won’t be an issue.

Other times programming for children or adults can result in supposed space issues. Please don’t take this as a knock on Sunday School classes, because as a preacher’s kid I grew up going to Sunday School every week, but there is nothing more inefficient than a building carved up with dozens of small single-use classrooms that sit empty all but 1-2 hours a week. At current construction prices, can anyone really justify this as good stewardship? Multi-function group rooms with some small group breakout spaces can achieve similar results in less space for less money. Adult small groups meeting at other times of the week either on site or in people’s homes can also not only solve your space problem but increase your impact in the community.

Okay, so the scenarios above don’t apply to you. You already have multiple services, and you have already transitioned from Sunday school to large group children’s environments and adult small groups. The next question to ask is, “Do we really need to enlarge our facility or can we just reconfigure it?” Churches, especially older ones, typically grew up haphazardly with addition after addition and little foresight or planning for the future. The result of this is usually a maze of confusion for visitors and tons of inefficient space. A good designer can help you review your actual needs and come up with a phased renovation plan to help you get the most usable space out of your current building, while planning for future growth and expansion. Pairing up a good designer with a good builder ensures your renovation will be cost-effective allowing your church to grow and save for larger facility needs such as a new building in a future phase.

Renovation is not the answer to every building need, but after implementing programming changes, it is usually the least expensive and simplest way to buy some more time. To quote Mark Twain, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Many design-builders take that approach. If you give them a call their answer will be typically be, “You need a new building, and we can design and build it for you.” As a ministry partner Visioneering Studios is interested in answering the “To Build or Not to Build” question first, and we have more tools in our toolbox than hammers. Our team of experienced staff with backgrounds as architects, designers, planners, construction managers, developers, facility managers, and financial analysts are our human resource tools that each can bring potential solutions from various viewpoints. Our alignment process, facility assessment capabilities, Strategic Feasibility Plan reports, and “Blue Sky” planning process are some of the other tools we have in our tool belt. Bringing all these resources together we can help your church determine if you should move, stay, renovate, expand, tear down, build new, or do nothing…and whether to do it now, three years from now, or never. We’d rather tell you up front that you’re best option for now is to add a second service and grow than to sell you on a bigger building that you may never fill up or be able to afford. Before you commit your church to a project that might not be needed, spend some time getting philosophical with us first. To build or not to build, that is the question.


Donald Trump Wants to Hire Your Church Building Committee

October 2, 2012 — by Jody Forehand

Donald TrumpAre you ready to challenge the “way it’s always been done”? If so, then lets jump into this post with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and ready to step on some toes. Is your church ready to start a new design and construction project? Everyone knows the first step, right? Set up a building committee! I think it is even somewhere in the Bible (wasn’t it the 11th commandment on the original tablets that Moses broke?). Then you must staff it with some retired church members who worked construction, a group of ladies who decorated the women’s restroom, and a dozen other representatives of every special interest group in the church so everyone can argue and compromise the project down to the point that no one really gets what they want. Put all these people in a room together and give them the task of setting the goals for your new project, determining your budget, and figuring out what your building (and site) says to your community about your ministry. Oh, and I forgot to mention that these people will also be tasked with navigating the maze of zoning, permitting, design trends, building codes, ministry functions, construction costs, and financing in order to build the right project at the right price.

I’m not trying to bash the people on building committees, because they are good people just following the 11th commandment, and they’ve never known there could be any other way. They are volunteering their time and investing their lives in the project as a way to give back and to serve the church, but with all the normal challenges every building project encounters is it any wonder that many church leaders say that their building program was one of the most trying times in their ministry? In my opinion the best thing a church could do is scrap the committee and select one of the talented individuals that was going to be on that committee and appoint them as the project leader, and have that project leader coordinate with the church leadership, all the various ministry teams, and the outside consultants (architect, contractor, etc.). Let the church leadership set the direction and goals, and then let the project leader coordinate the details with everyone else.

There are some other unfortunate results that sometimes come out of these stressful building programs. I’ve heard many horror stories of church building committees spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with architects to design and redesign a building only to have it come in so far over budget that the plans still sit on the shelf and the building is never built. That can shake the foundations of trust between the church members and their leadership. Even if the project ends up getting built the process is often so rocky and filled with problems that either the senior pastor or building committee chairman ends up leaving the church (usually involuntarily) within a year after the project is complete. Why? The typical church “building committee process” is not geared to give the project the best chance for success. Can a building committee work? Yes. I’ve worked with them a number of times. Can they be a great success? Yes, but more often than not, the success is not as great or as easy as it could have been, so why start the project with a potential handicap?

Stop and think about this for a second. How are buildings built in the real world? By committees of lay people working on a volunteer basis? Never. Developers and savvy business people know that for these complicated multi-disciplinary projects to be completed successfully they need knowledgeable professionals. They utilize project managers or small teams of empowered specialists. Do you think Donald Trump would ever pull together a volunteer committee from his country club to design and build his next “TrumpWhatever” Project? Not a chance. Even his apprentices go through a rigorous weeding out process on live TV (You’re Fired!).

“Design By Committee” works great! Just check out this video.
Designing the Stop Sign by Committee

If you are hiring your architect to design a project then turn them loose to design it instead of having your building committee micromanage the design and handcuff the designers. Building committees often suffer from “analysis paralysis”, and that often means the project takes longer and costs more because of constantly re-designing or making changes. Let the interior design team pick the finishes and colors. Let your contractor build it. Let your Owner’s Representative or Project Manager make the day-to-day decisions and lead the process and report back to your leadership team on a regular basis. Give input and review at appropriate times (and it is absolutely appropriate to push back or question your architect’s assumptions and design concepts during the process, especially early on, after all no one knows your specific ministry better than you). Participate in the process by setting out clear goals, programs, budgets, and parameters at the beginning, but then step back and let your hired guns do their jobs. At the end of the day the successful completion of the project will make you look good, while probably saving you a ton of stress, and having a project that is more likely to finish on time and under budget.

What was your last church building project like? What learnings can you share with the rest of us?

Originally posted by Jody Forehand on 1/10/2011 on his Reckless Abandon blog.