Ten Tenets of a New Church Building

It’s exciting to watch the anticipation that a church goes through as it builds a new building—whether it’s the new church moving from the local middle school into its first “home,” the established church adding another phase, or an established church moving to another part of town or building a second campus. In any case, there are 10 customary principles you can just about count on.

Warning: this post is not for the faint of heart!

1. It always costs more than it costs.

Prepare yourself to deal with two two-word phrases: “value engineering” and “change orders.”

  • Value engineering is a euphemism for “cut costs.” When the initial contract comes in, it will usually be for more than what you want to pay or can afford, so some of the project will have to be changed. The architect, contractor, or the two working together will value engineer the project to make it affordable.
  • Change orders come during the project when you decide you want to put a door in a different spot, the city inspector decides you need to change some configuration, or you simply want things to be laid out differently. Avoid change orders if you can—they can be very expensive. Make sure you’re completely happy with the layout of the project before the first shovel hits the ground.

2. You’ll run out of budget before you run out of ideas.

As you get the team together to talk about your expectations for the new building, put every idea on the table. Nothing’s too crazy when it’s just pencil and paper. Once you begin to prioritize ministry needs vs. wants, you’ll have to start scratching away at that list. Have everyone on the team vote for the top three or four needs by secret ballot. You’ll probably find some strong consistencies, and you’ll see some individual ideas that are only supported by one or two team members (which likely pertains to their area of ministry). I don’t have to tell you which direction to go with that info.

3. You cannot make everyone happy.

There will be many proverbial cooks in the kitchen. Whether it’s the youth minister who is pining for an indoor skate park, the wanna-be designer who doesn’t like the color scheme, the children’s minister who says we don’t have enough room for the kids, or the worship director who wants more lights and a better fog machine, you will have to get used to saying no.

4. Even if you think you’ll have lots of extra space, you won’t have lots of extra space.

While the new building won’t automatically fill up (see #5), there’s a good chance that if you plan well for how the building can help grow the church and you program and market accordingly, you will draw new people. Before you know it you may realize the children’s minister was right. Even the anticipation of a new building can create space issues so that you outgrow it before you move in.

If you build it, they will not come. —@BradDupray

5. Attendance growth is not automatic.

If you build it, they will not come.

  • They will come if you build within a reasonable distance of your current location (five to seven miles is usually the max distance to move, depending on the size of the church).
  • They will come if you plan programming that is compatible with the design of the building.
  • They will come if you let them know it’s there. If you don’t tell your story to the people around you and invite people to come (through marketing and personal invitations), your neighbors will just think this is a nice new building to look at as they drive by it each day.

6. It probably won’t be ready when you think it’s going to be ready.

When the contractor gives you the fancy Gantt Chart at the beginning of the project, don’t start planning the Grand Opening. Just like it always costs more than it costs, it also always takes longer than it takes. Even if you are one of the fortunate few who finish your project on time, it’s a good idea to plan for a few weeks of getting used to the new space before you have an official launch. That way, when you do cut the ribbon and invite newcomers to walk in the building, it’s ready to go the way you want it to go.

7. You’ll wish you had more storage space.

Rare is the church who says, “We wish we didn’t have so much storage space!” Think about the last time you moved from one house to another. Unpacking takes a long time, and there are some items that will make you think, “What am I going to do with this? I’ll just set it aside for now.” You will need storage space. It’s the same with churches. Whether you’re doing portable church or you’re moving from an existing space, you will find plenty of items to fill up your storage space. Even churches who are building an additional phase realize that the equipment needed for new ministries fills up storage space in a hurry.

8. The week before your first service will be hectic. (Make that terrifying.)

No matter how much advance planning you do, you will find that as you get ready to open the doors to the public for the first time there will be a million little details that you just didn’t think of. Imagine that you’re throwing a big party for new friends and you want to make a good impression. You want everything to be just right. In those last few minutes before the party, you’ll have a lot of details you will want to attend to so that everything is just right and everyone feels comfortable. Multiply that by one hundred. Um, make that one thousand!

While you’re going through the heartache, heartburn, and heartbreak of building that building, in the end it will all be worth it. —@BradDupray

9. The punch list will be lengthy. And, you won’t get it completed in time.

In laymen’s terms, the punch list is the list of things that the contractor needs to finish up before the job is officially complete. Some things will be obvious; others might need a closer inspection. There will likely be some things that are yet to be completed while you’re moving in. If they’re not finished, you’re in normal company, but don’t make that last payment to the contractor until the punch list is complete.

10. Your in-house project manager needs a long, paid vacation when the project is completed.

Building a church building can be a protracted, arduous process, and there is usually one person (often the Executive Pastor) who is singled out at the Grand Opening as the one who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the project. They gave up family time and worked into the wee hours of the morning to make sure everything was complete. The words of affirmation at the Grand Opening are nice, but that person toiled hard and may be on the verge of either exhaustion or a complete nervous breakdown. Give that person a break before they break.

And here’s one bonus tenet for you:

It’s worth it!

While you’re going through the heartache, heartburn, and heartbreak of building that building, in the end it will all be worth it. Keep your eye on the prize—a tool that can be used to expand the ministry of Christ and welcome more people into the Kingdom!