A Beginner’s Guide to Planning Church Construction

The decision to undertake a significant church construction project can seem intimidating. Whether you are building a new church or remodeling an existing building into a proper gathering place, there is not an Master of Divinity program or seminary that prepares pastors for the arduous task of seeing a building project to completion.

No matter what your project looks like, it comes with a long list of factors that you need to consider as you move forward:

  • What is God calling us to do?
  • Should we build or remodel?
  • How will we secure funds for this project?
  • Who will make the crucial decisions?
  • How will we get a new space designed?
  • Who will we get to oversee the construction?
  • What goals need to be set to get it over the finish line?

These broad questions do not begin to cover the myriad of details that need to be examined and processed. But do not worry. Overseeing a church building project is like that adage about the best way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

Let us look at some of these questions in depth.

What is God Calling Us to Do?

Would not it be great if the angel Gabriel showed up in your office with a clear message from God about how to manage your construction project? Unfortunately, the chances of that happening are relatively slim. But that does not mean that you are without direction!

As with every major decision, a church project of this magnitude must start with a clear understanding of who you are as a church and what God has called you to do. The more clarity the leadership has about the church’s mission and vision, the easier it is to discern God’s will throughout this process.

Any construction process is an extension of common stewardship principles. These assets and resources belong to God, and we are expected to manage them responsibly and effectively. So it is critical that you make every decision through a clear, well-defined rubric. One where you are asking yourself throughout the process, is this going to get us closer to our goals or further away?

It is incredibly important that the church body gets behind a building project. That can only happen when you move past practical and pragmatic considerations into a place where it is evident that your church is fulfilling a God-given vision for health and growth.

Prayer-centered growth

One of the best things you can do to kick off this whole process is to gather a team of people committed to praying. They would receive regular updates about progress and decisions that need to be made. The main goal would be to seek God’s wisdom and guidance throughout the entire project.


The focus would be on Solomon’s words in Psalm 127:1:


Unless the Lord builds the house,

the builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the guards stand watch in vain.


Of course, you want God to be at the hub of this process. Committing to prayer at the outset is one way to ensure that He is.

Should We Build, Renovate, or Remodel?

When you are considering a building project, the choice comes down to one of three questions:

  1. Do we renovate our current church building?
  2. Do we buy and renovate an existing building elsewhere?
  3. Do we build an entirely new structure?

If you do not own the space you are currently meeting in, that makes the decision much easier. But if you do own it, it is wise to look at what would need to go into expanding your space or building a new structure on your property. Usually, this is the most cost-effective way to move forward—but it can be the most disruptive and intrusive choice too.

Sometimes expansion is not an option, and you must look elsewhere. Sometimes that means taking an existing structure and turning it into a church. LifePointe Christian Church in Elk Grove, CA did that when they went from meeting in an elementary school to renovating an old Harley Davidson dealership.

These kinds of investments are often a middle ground between expanding your current structure and building a whole new one. One of the positives here is that quite often, these opportunities are available in locations with significant traffic and high visibility. The downside is that sometimes you are working with limitations that can be a hassle: parking problems, zoning restrictions, etc.

Lastly, you have the option of building an entire structure from scratch. The luxury here is that you are not working within the limitations of an existing building—provided you have the finances to facilitate your vision. But that is precisely the con with building a whole new church—it can be quite expensive and time-consuming.

The step you take here might be obvious, but it is still worth it to spend some time looking at options and wrestle with the pros and cons of each.

How Will We Secure Funds for This Project?

Raising money for a large building project is no small feat. It is where a great deal of the church’s attention and energy are going to go for quite a while. We are not talking about a few fundraisers here—we are talking about an entire capital campaign. If you do not have saved funds to cover the cost of a construction project, you are going to need to raise a significant amount of money within a specific period.

Here are a couple of ways to do that.

Construction loans

When it comes to securing funds for a major project, a construction loan can be a smart move. The building process has a lot of upfront costs that you may not be able to cover if you are trying to fundraise yourself through the process. A loan gives you the luxury of having the funds upfront.

This does not negate running a capital campaign. Your church can still do drives and fundraisers to repay the loan—you just will not have the pressures of deadlines hanging over everyone’s head. But make sure to shop around. Banks and credit unions are not necessarily the ideal choice for the best interest rates or an organization that understands your needs.

Community networks

If your church is really plugged into the community, you might be able to find local businesses to be strong advocates for your growth. If not the companies themselves, perhaps community leaders and CEOs. Doing the footwork to raise money can really pay off. In fact, it is not unheard of to find businesses who are willing to match donations for a limited time.

Crowdfunding and social networking

The rise of social networks and crowdfunding apps have introduced a whole new way to generate income for capital campaigns. While there is still some work in maintaining and marketing crowdfunding fundraisers, this can be a substantial addition to other fundraising tactics.


Google the words “church fundraisers,” and you will find millions of fundraising ideas that run the gamut from quick concepts to raise small amounts to elaborate plans to amass large amounts. Finding ways to make these ideas your own (and secure a good return on your investment of time, energy, and resources) is an integral part of the fundraising process.

Who Will Make the Crucial Decisions?

Large-scale construction projects require all hands on deck. Success requires that everyone in the church is behind the project and making sacrifices to see this dream become a reality. But you still need a core team that will drive the project and see it to completion. If this team is not well defined at the outset, the responsibility will fall on the pastoral staff who is stretched thin as it is.

Ideally, you will want a single point person that manages the project and oversees the team. It makes sense that this will fall to an executive pastor if you have one. But if you do not, the responsibility should rest with a driven and organized personality type. It is going to be their job to keep the project on track, coordinate the teams, and facilitate all the necessary communication.

Around this central person should be a team of four or five individuals that can work together and get stuff accomplished.

How Will This Space Get Designed and Built?

This is the part of the process where you want to take your time and do your research. Construction litigation is second only to medical litigation in the United States. You do not need to be scared about the design/build process, but you do want to be deliberate and strategic in the way you approach it. Make sure you do your research on any firms you use and that the contracts are clear and comprehensive.

There are basically three primary construction project delivery methods.


Here the church chooses a design firm that comes up with designs, and then contractors bid for the job. This is a pretty popular way to do church construction and can get you the lowest possible construction costs, but there are some disadvantages.

Churches often end up falling into the trap of hiring based on price and not on experience or qualifications. This can end up coming back to bite them. It can also be a huge disadvantage to have the designs finished without the builder's input and feedback.

Construction manager at risk

This model invites the contractor in as a team member. The contractor agrees to bring the project in within a guaranteed maximum price and is there as a consultant throughout the design and planning phases.

This creates a more collaborative atmosphere and faster transition from design to construction, but you will want to ensure that there is transparency in the projected costs and markups.


Some churches opt for choosing a contractor to be their single point of contact. Either the contractor manages the design process, or the contractor is part of a design-build firm where the whole project happens in-house. This frees the church up from being overly committed during the beginning phase and having to arbitrate issues between the designer and contractor.

This can be a costlier choice because of the lack of transparency in the process. When the church is involved in the design process, it allows for more checks and balances in the overall cost and scope. But this may be a cost that churches are willing to pay not to have their time eaten up with constant back and forth communication.

There are various versions of these three models. If your church is moving forward in the construction phase, it is probably wise to talk to some other churches in your area and see what models they used—and maybe which builders.

What Goals Need to Be Set to Get Us Over the Finish Line?

Once you have everything in place, it is time to sit down with your teams and map out your plan. Start by choosing a target to have this project completed by (and keep it realistic). Once you have that, you can begin to reverse engineer a timeline. What goals do you need to hit by each date?

This timeline is not set in stone. As you progress, you can move some of the goals around. The schedule is there to keep the project moving along. Without it, it is hard to maintain a sense of urgency over the long haul.

Here are a few of the things you will want to have a plan for:

  • Assess your needs: What do you need for ministry? What about state and federal expectations?
  • Communicating with the church: When will you communicate your need to the church and invite them in the process?
  • Gathering information and documentation: If you are doing a remodel, when do you plan to have all of the blueprints and plans for your building and property, so a designer knows what they are working with?
  • Design: When do you hope to be done with the design process?
  • Zoning restrictions: It is critical that you figure out how your existing building or new property is zoned.
  • Funding: How will fundraising work? When will you complete your capital campaign?

Keeping these goals up-to-date and available for everyone to access will help keep the project moving.

Following God’s Lead

Your church facilities provide a home base for ministry to happen. It plays a vital role in your community. It might seem overwhelming to grow your space so that God can grow your ministry, but if you follow this advice and take it one step at a time, you will be on your way to creating a new location for ministry to happen!