Settling on a site for a new church location goes far beyond town or crossroad considerations. Site selections come after a laundry list of factors, including easements, setbacks, governmental restrictions, available utilities, and more.
At WFX 2013 in Dallas last summer, church leaders were given an overview of site selection topics. Led by Jimmy Powers of Powers Goolsby Architects and Kevin Flowers, lead pastor at Alamo Community Church, event session attendees were introduced to a critical planning cheat sheet, designed to prepare them for the multifaceted world of site selection.
"The vision, goals, and style of worship will play an important role in deciding the site for a church." Kevin Flowers, Alamo Community Church Lead Pastor
Before a church dives into the site selection process head first, it should establish some basics parameters for it really needs. It should ask itself all the "Who? What? Why?" questions.
"The vision, goals, and style of worship will play an important role in deciding the site for a church," Flowers explains. "Church leaders should consider worship style, long-range goals, and financing."
Powers echoes this sentiment, saying the vision for the church should be clear. "A church should know their needs," he says. "Design and style factors should be kept in mind while selecting a site things like seating, A/V, accessibility, small group needs, congregational needs, outreach ministry, etc."
The Obvious Factors
For many lay and church leaders, site selection will be ,at first, aesthetic. As Powers and Flowers put it, "geographic and landscape features will be the most obvious." For example:
- Location Churches need find sites convenient to current visitors. "If the church is currently on the northeast side, selecting a piece of land on the southwest side might not be the best option," Powers says.
- Topography Though churches can be built on slopes, Powers advises churches to look for flat sites if possible. "It's always nice to have a flat site because it's more economical," he says. "Churches built on slopes require expenses to make the topography suitable for construction."
- Parking Make sure there will be ample parking for visitors to easily park their cars. "Don't give people another reason not to come to church," quips Flowers.
- Power While power lines may be unsightly, they also tend to mean the availability of ample electricity. Make sure power won't be a problem.
- Trees A site that is covered in old growth can certainly be charming, but it can also be expensive. "Trees do make a church's surrounding beautiful," Powers says, "but too many trees could become problematic."
- Water Features Waterfront property offers appeal as an inviting destination to visitors, but be aware: insurance rates and construction costs almost always join such features. "It could be problematic," Powers points out, "if you purchase 2.5 acres of land only to learn 2 acres of it sits in a flood plain."
- Pre-Existing Conditions Abutting eyesores or obstacles should be considered. "Graveyards, cell towers, or billboards need to be taken into account," Powers says.
The Not-So-Obvious Factors
Once site search committees get past the more obvious factors, it's time to dig a bit deeper to get a handle on the less obvious factors. These include:
- Zoning Requirements Non-residential buildings face a number of strict zoning codes. Make sure your site-search committee has a grasp of what's expected. "Over the years, most city municipality codes have churches under specific occupancy rules," Flowers explains. "This means churches can't really choose independently. Rather, they need to adhere to certain zoning rules in certain areas."
- Fees Many municipalities assess fees for the design and construction of a new building. Make sure you're aware of local rules.
- Easements & Setbacks Particular buffers are required for various obstacles. For example, Powers says, "Cell towers often require a 10-meter radius around them for safety, and that can take up quite a lot of space on a site."
- Flood Plain Be sure the land is surveyed with a flood plan. "Churches could end up purchasing land that is 75 percent over a flood plain," Powers warns.
- Soil A site's soil type can tell quite about the cost of a project. "A rocky site might be inexpensive," Powers says, "as there is solid ground to build a church on. Churches made on clay, however, may require as much as 12 to 14 feet of soil to be dug out and replaced."
- Trees, Landscape & Conservation Many municipalities have tree ordinances. Too many trees could be an expensive undertaking before, during, and after construction.
- Underground Construction Pre-existing water and sewer systems can mean significant savings for a church construction project. Conversely, some underground utilities can present costly expenses. "In Texas," Powers reports, "many church sites had oil lines going under them, which now need to be removed or replaced."
By doing its homework and partnering with a professional, church site-search committees can be prepared to make a wise choice for its church community.
GEOFFREY OLDMIXON (www.oldmixon.net) is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and editor.