Several months ago, we learned that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church was in need of shoring-up a $900,000 budget shortfall to keep the California mega-church operating. True to form, church members not only delivered the needed $900,000 but exceeded it by more than $1 million – proving that Warren has a “healthy” church (a common theme in his excellent book The Purpose Driven Church), in the midst of an “unhealthy” economy.
Wouldn’t it be great if every church had this same good fortune? However, in today’s lean economic times, Saddleback’s ability to meet the budget shortfall is probably not the norm. As many congregations are making budget cuts, families continue to find the church an anchor of support during difficult times. In many cases, this can boost attendance without increasing contributions.
As this scenario plays out in many churches throughout the United States, it is an ideal time to discuss the importance of having a solid master plan that anticipates ups and downs in the economy, while ensuring that the Church remains a bedrock of support for its congregation.
Beyond staff salaries, the single biggest expenditures (and the ones that historically cause the most heartache) are construction costs incurred during times of exponential growth. In many cases, a church will construct its building based on future growth projections, or the long-term vision of the pastor, without taking into account that future financial conditions may vary radically from the present.
One of the things that can really make or break a church is building a partnership with an experienced faith-based architect to develop the master plan. An experienced architect will view the relationship as a long-term commitment to the overall “health” of the faith community – not just a one-time project. By working with church leaders, the architect can develop a church design and building schedule that meets not only the worship and educational needs of the present and future, but also the financial capacity of the church for the long haul. An experienced architect can also facilitate benchmark site visits to other recently completed church projects that share a common vision. This is a key step which will assist in getting the master plan right for each particular faith community.
The Church on Rush Creek in Arlington, Texas, is a good example of a church that has made exceptional use of its master plan. For more than two decades, Rush Creek Baptist Church served the South Arlington and North Mansfield areas of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The church structure was like many of the Southern Baptist churches built in the 1970s who called the region home. An undersized foyer provided an entry point to the sanctuary, which favored a traditional style of worship and music. The building served the congregation well for many years, but as the 1990s began, the church’s growth created the need for a larger sanctuary, classrooms and an enlarged pres-function space.
Upon joining the congregation in 1994, Senior Pastor Russ Barksdale knew that he would be moving the church in a new direction. He had a vision for the church that would take it in a more contemporary direction with a focus on the fellowship style of worship. For his ministry to be successful, he would need to have a building that would support a contemporary worship service and serve as a focal point for the community, while providing additional support to young families.
One of the key components of the master plan that was developed early on for Rush Creek was the decision to build in multiple phases. The first new construction phase completed in 2000, included a contemporary multi-purpose worship space, choir practice room, preschool and adult classrooms. The multi-purpose space was designed with movable walls and a specialized audio/visual system, which allows the congregation great flexibility to use the space for a variety of different activities, including worship, concerts, fellowship, and even sporting events like Upwards Basketball. Seating can be arranged in several different configurations to maximize space requirements for each activity. Moreover, the worship area was designed to expand for future growth.
Shortly after the first phase of new construction was complete, the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred. For some churches, that might have recently finished a major construction project, the financial hiccup which followed could have become a major problem. However, because Rush Creek was building in separate phases, it did not have an impact on the master plan. In fact, the building, coupled with the new direction, had an incredibly positive effect on Barksdale’s ministry - the church nearly doubled in size.
It’s also important to remember that a master plan should be able to change with the needs of your faith community. In 2005, Rush Creek encountered a setback as the original church building was destroyed by fire, which at the time had been converted for use as a children’s educational facility. While the original building was destroyed by the fire, leaving the congregation without key educational facilities for two years, it turned out to be a blessing for the church. By reevaluating and adjusting the master plan, the second phase of new construction could now incorporate more than just additions to the first phase. It would also enable Rush Creek to consolidate its ministry within a single building complex.
Completed in 2007, the second new construction phase included age-appropriate educational facilities and enhanced fellowship and gathering areas. The focal point is an expansive concourse (nearly five square-feet per person), in addition to an indoor playground for children, 400-seat family theater, administrative offices, bookstore and a fellowship space that replicates a Starbucks Coffee Shop. Pastor Barksdale wanted the space to be the hub of the growing faith community, creating an environment that made the church the central point in the lives of its members.
Today, with more than 2,200 attending services at the 65,000-square-foot facility, The Church on Rush Creek has succeeded in realizing its vision and identity through the implementation of a master plan. In the case of Rush Creek, the master plan will undoubtedly continue to evolve. In the foreseeable future, it will likely include a third phase of new construction, but provides the church with the flexibility to determine the best time to move forward. Most importantly, the master plan has provided Rush Creek with a dynamic multi-use space that maximizes the worship experience for its members, and serves as a focal point for fellowship and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.