Living Stones Architecture gets its name from 1 Peter 2:4-5. The verse reads, “As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like Living Stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The company’s president and founder, David Dial, has been working to help churches grow since his college days. The company’s heart for ministry is expressed in its mission statement: “Living Stones Architecture exists to serve the Bride of Christ by developing ministry tools and facilities that help fulfill the Great Commission. We are a dedicated team of architects and interior designers who partner with church building teams to design flexible tools that promote growth and wisely use the resources that God has provided. Living Stones Architecture also exists to financially support the mission of Jesus Christ worldwide.”
Dial attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga., and has a Master of Architecture. His master’s thesis focused on church and campus planning. Eighteen years later his company has a list of over 100 churches it has helped to expand. Worship Facilities Magazine spoke with Dial about both his experiences and his company’s role in helping churches grow.
WFM: Tell us a little about your personal history. How did you become interested in church growth?
Dial: Churches are very intriguing to me, in part due to my faith and due to my fascination with churches as a body and how they operate. Churches have some of the most unique design problems. They vary more than any other type of building and they are so diverse in their needs for design. After doing over 100 projects, I am even more intrigued about how they differ and how they are modifying their tools to reach people with the same great truth. Church spaces have to inspire, be welcoming, accessible and functional, and are used predominately by volunteers to attract guests in order to share something that is life-changing, personally and collectively.
WFM: Your firm was founded in part to get away from the design-bid-build process and move your projects to design-build. Can you explain the difference and tell us why, in your opinion, design-build is better for churches?
Dial: I had the opportunity early in my career to work with several large facilities clients such as hospitals and private schools, usually working for a facilities manager. I discovered that the design-bid-build process wasn’t offering the best cost or the best process of communication and decision. The ‘bid’ process places the designers and the contractor at the farthest points apart in the process. The design team is making choices up to 12 months in advance of the contractor’s purchases, with little knowledge of cost.
The design-build process, even more so in an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) method, places the owner, the suppliers and the designers all in a better place to help choose which solution truly benefits the owner. You cannot choose just price, performance or schedule to make decisions and with design-bid-build, cost is only generated from the contractor’s point of view.
WFM: You are quoted as saying a church’s building can impede effective ministry more often than finances. Tell us more.
Dial: Churches are often left with surprises from their previous building project.
The most common is that the actual rate of growth differed from original projections. The second most common surprise is that over time the church’s ministry changed and they no longer use the space according to original intent.
At the core of any building design are absolutes. Even if the absolute is flexibility, which seems to be more common for small- and medium-sized churches, once you layout structure, bathrooms, circulation paths like stairs and elevators, you start eliminating possibilities. Churches and hospitals share the ‘can’t get there from here syndrome,’ because they build in multiple phases and years apart. They don’t always plan well for the next phase of building.
WFM: What advice do you have for a church just starting a building or expansion project?
Dial: One of the first tools we recommend is called the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). This is a document that lists the project goals from the point of view of the owner, and something that is part of the better design-build, Integrated Project Delivery and LEED certification process. It includes questions like, ‘What items need to be included for you to feel this project was a success?’ ‘At what milestones will we stop and assess the budget and design for alignment with the OPR?’ This is a process that the church should start on its own and then edit with the building committee, church leaders, lay ministry teams, architect, general contractor, engineers and designers as each come on board the team. If only one or two of these groups consider these questions, you get a 2-D painting. If all team members edit this with the church, you’ll get a 3-D sculpture that should be a stronger and tested project before any limiting elements like foundations and walls are expended.
WFM: Why is it important for you to staff Living Stones Architecture with interior designers and architects who understand how ministries work?
Dial: I have been blessed to work with some of the most creative people in architecture, design and ministry. Now, of course, any architect that has a church studio would say that. However, I am blessed that my team is well-trained and experienced in construction and designing churches, but also experienced and immersed in ministry personally. Some of the best design ideas we’ve had came from someone in the firm asking questions like, ‘Is this the best and most effective way to do ministry? Can we find a way to make the space more inviting to people to get involved in ministry? Will this space make young parents comfortable in leaving their kids or serving in the nursery? Is this a place that makes dads want to stick around?’ We have found that having a very flat organizational chart with depth of understanding about construction and ministry makes for a stronger team.