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Designers Advise on Partnerships, Trends

How do you go about finding, and then building a great relationship with a church designer?  We asked a few people in the church design business for their input on this, as well as their take on what’s new when it comes to designing and building churches.

There’s most of a brand new year ahead of us.  And maybe your church is one of many that will be developing a new facility, or upgrading the one they are in.

One of the major elements in any major facility project is selecting and working effectively with a designer, creating a relationship that, at its best, operates as a partnership between the church and project designer, be they architects or builders.

How do you go about finding, and then building a great relationship with a church designer?  We asked a few people in the church design business for their input on this, as well as their take on what’s new when it comes to designing and building churches.

Read on to see what they told us!

Reach Out!

"Start on the road to a great partnership with a designer by talking to other churches that have recently completed projects about what went well and what didn’t – and talk to their designers," says Nicole L. Thompson, president of Minneapolis-based Station 19 Architects Inc.

Then, “Reach out and meet with the architect face to face if you can, and determine if you connect well with them,” Thompson says.  After that, tour one of their completed projects, as well as where they work, she advises, “and call them and ask questions – find out if they are available when you try to contact them.”

Church-architect relationship building is crucial, Thompson notes.  “There is a lot of communication that’s necessary during the design and building process and you want to be confident that the team you partner with will listen and communicate well with your team, as well as with project contractors and sub-contractors,” she says.

“The most important thing is to hire the right team (architect or builder) for your project regardless of the fee and building process,” shares Thompson. “After all, you are creating a ministry tool that will be around for a long time, and how it is designed in response to your ministry to reach the generations to come is vitally important.”

In the trends department, “We are consistently designing spaces that echo our client’s purpose and brand.” Says Thompson who notes, “We strive to create welcoming, hospitable, secure environments with elements that include: a facility with a curb appeal, one that communicates the church’s brand, an atmosphere that is inviting, comfortable, and an easily navigable lobby environment.”

Be Part of the Team

“Find an architect that wants the church to be part of a design process where decisions are made as a team, and the best idea wins, regardless of who thought of it,” advises Aubrey Garrison, founding principal of Birmingham, AL-based LIVE Design Group.

“Be sure to seek a team environment that puts the creative freedom back in your hands, welcomes you and your church team to be an active part of the design process, and one that never settles on assumed solutions or past concepts,” Garrison says.

“Churches and designers that operate following the advice, ‘Why not do it together and get it right the first time?’” he notes, “save time, valuable resources – and results in a design that the church wants.”

Trends-wise, “We see the church continuing to move toward becoming the social center of the community,” says Garrison. In many cases, he notes, “There is increased interest in transforming lobbies into everyday gathering places – growing into seven-day-a week facilities – which is good stewardship of facilities.”

Examples of this include expanding the scope of cafés a popular feature for churches over the past several years, into space accommodating small groups to meet during the week, as well as entrepreneurs looking for alternate places to work. Multi-use spaces in churches are increasing in numbers, he notes, adding, “The ability of a room to have one use on Sunday, and a different use during the week has become an attractive addition to many campuses.” 

Shared Passion

"I would encourage churches to find designers and builders who share a passion for God’s church, who are willing to listen to their vision, and who understand the impact of design decisions on ministry,” says David Strickland, principal over the Worship Design Studio at Marietta, GA-based CDH Partners.

In searching for an architect, “A church should select a partner that will help them think before they design and plan before they build – this way facilities align with their missions and ministries,” he says.

Churches will enjoy a greater relationship with the designer/builder if they are included as part of the design team every step of the way, Strickland says, adding, “The church should expect to be involved in the design process, not just be presented with a design solution after it is developed.”

In the trends department, “Multiuse space remains in high demand; it’s one of the main programming requests of our church clients,” Strickland reports, noting that “Due to the increasing costs of construction and technology, it benefits the church to have a single space that serves multiple ministries, rather than multiple spaces serving only one ministry.”

Meanwhile, “No matter the denomination or style of worship, an excellent children’s ministry space remains one of the top priorities for almost every church we work with,” Strickland says, adding, “When it comes to children and their families, engaging and functional spaces can result in successful ministry for the entire congregation.”

Open and Honest

Jeff Crocker, principal of Gainesville, GA-based Brewster & Crocker Architects, has four pieces of advice about finding and growing a great relationship with a designer

First, “Make sure you’re selecting someone that you are comfortable with, that understands who YOU are, that LISTENS and really tries to UNDERSTAND your vision, and one that WORKS FOR YOU, not trying to design their own personal trophies,” he says.

Secondly, keep in mind the “you get what you pay for” saying holds true when assessing fees.  “I’m not saying to pay your design consultants top dollar, but I am saying to be prepared to pay a market-competitive fee for a good team,” Crocker says, “and I promise that a good team will save you money in the long run.

Thirdly and importantly, “Be open and honest with your architect about everything - your programming, your attendance and growth numbers, and your budgets – and don’t try to hide stuff because you don’t fully trust them,” he says, adding, “if you don’t trust them, then you shouldn’t have hired them.” 

Lastly, remember that the design team does not control construction costs, “But they should be honest and open with you, as their clients, about what the market is doing regarding cost and how it’s trending,” says Crocker.  “Be open and honest with yourself” he adds, “and this will lead to an open and honest dialogue with your team about what you can afford to do as a church with the money you’ve been entrusted with.”

Crocker reports that, “One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is that churches want and need usable outdoor ministry space that focuses on building relationships and making connections.”  Also trend-wise, “We are still seeing a strong movement in the multi-site church and church plants,” he notes, adding “Many people are intimidated by attending a megachurch – most people want smaller community groups to have and do life with, and the multi-site churches and church plants are providing this.”

Experience and Counsel

Churches looking for a design partner can start out by researching candidates appearing in publications featuring the work of architects in the church space, according to Stephen C. Pickard, principal at Dallas/Ft. Worth/Austin-based GFF Architects.

Also, “I would encourage them to seek out recommendations and counsel from other churches that have recently completed a similar project,” he says.  Churches should be looking for an architect and design team that have a significant amount of experience with the design of worship, education and contemporary gathering spaces, he notes, adding “We believe the key to creating a great and long-term relationship with our clients is to provide a high quality product and experience, and continuing to provide counsel and serve as a resource long after the project is completed.”

Design trends-wise, there is a continuing emphasis on large community gathering spaces, secure/exciting interactive learning and play environments for children, outdoor family gathering spaces, cafes, playgrounds and playcourts, Pickard report.  “Sustainable design is beginning to emerge as a priority for many congregations,” he adds, noting that “Church campuses are beginning to promote walkability, environmental sustainability and mixed-use options that dovetail and integrate church campuses with the surrounding community.”

Critical connection

In selecting a designer, “Find someone with experience constructing churches, and familiar with the ministry model you wish to deliver in the new/expanded facility,” advises Kerry Jones, director of Client Relations for Goff Companies, based in Dallas.

Also, keep in mind that “It is critical for the senior leadership in the church to connect with a designer and/or builder who actually listens, rather than be satisfied with politely waiting for a chance to speak.”

In the design/construction trends department, the trend towards smaller venues and multiple sites is continuing. “We see 1,400-1,800-seat worship rooms more frequently than 3,000+,” Jones reports, “with a number of churches that we work with building multiple sites with 500-1000 seat worship rooms.” He notes, “We are also seeing more expansion interest from traditional-style churches, such as Methodist and Presbyterian, who are offering an updated worship style.”


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