Building projects are large ministry investments. How a church and its leadership team begin is very important. If a project does not start with the correct information, and in the right way, it can be very costly. It can be costly financially, but more importantly, it can be costly to leadership integrity. Determining to take the right steps first and then taking them in the right order is the very best way to insure you can complete the right project, on budget, and on time. As you begin your journey, here are 5 very critical questions to ask to insure you get the answers before you move forward.
The first and ultimately most important question is, “Why are we going to build?” Some obvious answers might be, “We are growing”, or “We need more space for a specific ministry”, or “We are starting something new and need room.” These are all good answers, but the most important response and answer to this question is, “We believe or know that God has given us a vision to build. “ As a Pastor and leader, you should be confident that you have a direction and vision from the Lord that you are to build, expand, or renovate facilities. It provides you confidence to lead, it provides motivation for your team to advance the project, and most importantly, if it is a God-given vision, people are much more likely to participate, both with support and finances.
Another question to ask is, “Are we getting the best utilization of our current space?” Too often churches launch off to expand facilities or build new buildings when perhaps they have more than enough square footage to continue ministry if the facility was simply repurposed and had better utilization. A recent church had requested that we build a new 46,000 square foot building. After attending weekend services and doing a complete ministry evaluation, we discovered that they could reduce the budget by over $3 million, by constructing a much smaller new building and repurposing the existing 40,000 square feet they already were occupying. Having an experienced church design/build firm help you evaluate currently facilities could possibly lead to a budget reducing outcome by simply repurposing existing space and building less new square footage.
The third question is not one many churches evaluate before they begin to plan facility projects. That is, “How much can we afford to spend”. A staggering national statistic is that nearly 80% of all church projects that are started never reach completion. Why, because the projects are vision driven rather than budget driven. When vision and scope drive the design, more than half of the time the design will cost more than the church can afford. If we ask, first, “How much can we realistically afford to spend?” and then control the design to match the budget, we can have confidence that the project will be affordable and able to move forward. Always begin with the budget!!
An important, and often overlooked element of any project is evaluating costs other than the costs of the building. A great question to ask, again before you design the building, is, “What costs should we anticipate other than the building?” When a church needs to expand or build, they often reach out to an architect and share the vision of what they want designed. However, if the proper due diligence is not executed before laying out floor plans and getting renderings, many times large expenses can be overlooked and end up delaying or even worse stopping the project all together. What are some of those other potential costs? New or increased underground utilities, new traffic requirements from the city, possible storm water management requirements, impact fees, life safety systems, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, etc. There are many questions that should be asked, answered, and a cost defined for a project before beginning the design of the new facility. This will allow you to deduct those costs from the budget, then control the design so it does not exceed that remaining balance you have to spend.
The final question that should be asked is, “How can we accurately know an entire project cost before we begin?” The answer to this question is critical to leadership integrity. Tragically too many times projects end up costing significantly more than Pastor told the congregation. When this happens Pastor’s integrity can be jeopardized as the church is required to raise or borrow more money than was expected. In fact, according to statistics, this is one of the primary reasons that 20% of Pastors leave churches after a construction project. The only way to accurately know the entire project cost, is to systematically go through the pre-construction process and take the right steps in the right order. A very purposeful due diligence process can provide all the information required to determine all costs that will be incurred in addition to the actual costs of constructing the building. Once those are determined and deducted from the budget, then a design/build process is the only way to accurately determine the construction costs as you design. If you wait until the design is 50% complete before you try to get real world costs, it will be too late. You need to insure you get line item budgets from the first time you see a floor plan all the way through the design process. Not just a random cost per square foot or a total estimated cost of the building, but a summarized cost of site work, concrete, steel, electrical, plumbing, etc. If you get accurate pricing all the way through design, there should be no surprises when you begin the construction process. That means you have a very good chance of completing the project on time and on budget.
Having walked this journey with hundreds of churches across the country, we understand and know the importance of asking the right questions before you begin a building project of any size. It is the only way to insure a very satisfying construction project and maintaining leadership integrity, growing momentum, and Kingdom focused results.