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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.