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Feasibility Study is Mission Critical to Facility Planning

Feasibility Study is Mission Critical to Facility Planning

Proper due diligence is the demise of far too many church building projects; here are the basics found in a Needs & Feasibility Study and why it's so necessary.

A needs and feasibility study defines a plan that will define the scope, timing and budget of a building program, and is instrumental in maintaining unity in the body of Christ. AMI Church Consul Svcs

Is your church considering purchasing or building a new facility?

Do you sense that a change in location, size, and design will make your church more inviting and able to accommodate a larger congregation? 

If so, it's an exciting (and maybe overwhelming) time for your church.  Deciding when, where and what to build is a significant undertaking.  While it's tempting to jump immediately into the vision you have for a new facility, there's a great deal of planning and preparation to be done to ensure a successful project.

The Unforeseen

Imagine your team standing at the construction site and realizing there's not a clear traffic flow from street to parking lot, to front entrance.  Or perhaps you've already purchased the land and now the local government isn't willing to issue permits you need to start construction. 

Building projects are notorious for issues that come up, including demolition-sized challenges that can halt construction and obliterate your budget.  You can avoid the pain of asking your congregation or lender for more money, lengthy delays in launching your first service in the new building, and worse with how you approach your plan from the start.

After conducting a survey of 321 churches, The Rainer Group found that "only 30 percent of churches thought through their building design from a strategic perspective, and therefore manyof the churches surveyed didn't end up with an optimal facility. If the other churchesthe majority of our studyhad conducted a feasibility study, the end product would've been one of greater satisfaction."

When asked about their building project, Jim Johnson, senior pastor, Preston Trail Community Church states, "The success of our feasibility phase was highly dependent on the selection of our architect. We selected an architect who had extensive experience in church design plus a high capacity software program that allowed us to plug in about every variable imaginable. With these two assets we were able to project accurately the size, layout, and cost of our project."

According to AMI Church Consulting Services, "The purpose of a feasibility study is to provide the church with a qualified report of objective and quantifiable information, and actionable plan. A needs and feasibility study defines a plan that will define the scope, timing and budget of a building program, and is instrumental in maintaining unity in the body of Christ."

Feasibility Questions to Ask

In other words, the process of completing a needs and feasibility study is an exercise that guides your church leadership team to answer questions such as:

Where should we build?  What are the pros/cons of various locations? 
Does the location we're considering have growth potential?  Could we add to the building footprint and/or parking lot if needed?
Should we build or purchase an existing facility and renovate?
What population changes (increases/decreases) is our community trending towards in the coming years? 
What growth in our congregation are we expecting for the next 5-10+ years? 
When is the right time for us to build?
How many rooms do we need and for what purposes?
How many parking spaces do we need?
What does traffic flow look like in each location we're considering?
What do we want the design of this new facility to communicate to guests and members? 
What are the constraints or challenges we have in our current building that we want to fix in the new one?
What can our church afford at this time? 
How much do we anticipate this will cost and how long could it take us to have those funds available?
Do we need to launch a capital campaign? 
Have we communicated the vision for this new facility?  If so, is our congregation on-board and excited about this vision? 

Are they able and willing to contribute more financially to make it happen?
Will we need to pursue financing?  If so, which lenders should we contact?  Are the church finances healthy enough to qualify for a sizable loan?

At Churches By Daniels, Rodney James, director of business & finance, walks their clients through a needs and feasibility study effort.  They use a two-part process: First, they focus on the financial parameters of the ministry by working with the church leadership to determine a realistic budget for the project. 

The second aspect is related to physical feasibility.  They talk through several scenarios and questions with their clients including:
Does the church have enough land? 
Is the land usable? 
Do they have existing facilities that could be better utilized if renovated or changed? 

According to Rodney, "Often times, adding on to a facility or building a new building on existing land is not feasible for many reasons.  Why spend money on designing, until you know for certain you can feasibly fit the building, parking, landscaping, storm water and other requirements on the property?"

Once a budget is established, they'll align it with the needs of the church to assess feasibility.  For the needs study, the Churches By Daniels team leads their clients through "a thorough evaluation of needs based on how they do ministry.  From the meetings with various ministry leaders the data is assembled and presented back to the church.  Once this process is complete, it is then translated into a facility design that lines up with the feasibility portion to ensure that the design is practical and affordable."

This planning process is critical to ensuring the project is a success meeting the needs of the church while staying within budget.  Conducting such a detailed study can take a considerable amount of time, which can be frustrating when you're not seeing physical progress.  However, in Rodney's experience there are three key factors that make a difference in whether church leaders are satisfied with the final outcome:

3 Key Factors that Define Success

1. Designers who understand ministry

2. Proper due diligence before design

3. Accurate pricing or budgeting from the start

"Proper due diligence is the failure of far too many church building projects.  We have a very cost effective approach to walk churches through a due diligence process that is designed to discover many hidden, forgotten, or unanticipated costs.  Designing the building should never begin until proper due diligence is completed and a cost is applied to everything that is discovered.  Far too often churches design a building to their budget only to find later that they were unaware of hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for items that should have been discovered as the first step. Design is not the first stepdue diligence is the first step."

When asked what issues they've seen come up once a project starts if due diligence wasn't completed during the planning phase, Rodney replied, "The most common issues are site costs including utilities, storm water management, and site excavation.  If proper testing and research is not completed, these items can add hundreds of thousands to a project.  Another very costly item that is very often overlooked is traffic.  When churches build new facilities, often municipalities look at the traffic impact on surrounding streets.  If this is not discovered and considered before or during design, the project budget can be totally overrun with this one item."

Final Word of Advice

Finally, for a pastor who's thinking it's time to build or expand, here's what Rodney recommends: "Find a partner to help you through the entire process who understands ministry, design, and construction.  Rather than having to figure out how to hire a civil engineer, an architect, a capital campaign company, a loan consultant, a geotechnical company, a contractor, and many others, hire a partner to walk the entire journey with you.  Someone who has been a pastor and completed successful building projects is a great coach, mentor and encourager to walk with you.  This will be no easy journey and any pastor will need a trusted partner to help them."

AMI Church Consulting: http://amichurchconsulting.com/needs-feasibility-study/
The Rainer Group survey: http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/139406-to-build-or-not-to-build.html


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