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Partnering with Church Members

Partnering with Church Members

Many churches have design and construction professionals as members, but is it wise to use their expertise for your next building project?

It is a question that most churches have to deal with at some point: Should we use in-house church members for our next building project?  Obviously, the Lord has placed those professionals in your church, and many times they are willing to serve and help the church by providing their services at no charge or at a significantly reduced rateso wouldn't it be prudent and good stewardship of God's provision to use their expertise? The answer to this question is not as simple as yes or no. There are many variables that require consideration and attention. Here are three challenges that churches need to be aware of when contracting with in-house professionals.

A contract changes the relationship

When a contract is signed, the relationship changes. Your parishioner is no longer Brother Jim who sits in the third row from the back: he is now your contractor or design professional.  You are no longer just the pastor or staff member: you are now a client. A contract changes the relationship and now both parties have unique responsibilities and commitments to each other that must be fulfilled.

Because the relationship changes, it presents challenges for both parties. If the project is not going according to plan, the church leadership may be hesitant to share their true frustrations because they are cognizant of Brother Jim's feelings, or they fear jeopardizing a long-standing relationship. The lines of management and accountability can become blurred. On the other hand, Brother Jim may find that going to church is no longer as pleasurable as before, and he is now a target for questions every time he steps onto the campus. When contracting with in-house professionals, understand that the relationship changes and with this change comes the potential for undue stress and pressure for both parties.

Free can be very expensive

One of the many mistakes I have witnessed churches make is hiring a church member to accomplish a project because they made a great deal for the church. In these situations, the church member had noble intentions and pure motives. They wanted to help the church, they wanted to serve, but in the end, they just could not deliver. The reasons are varied, but often times "free" services or "at cost" services will not receive the same quality attention that profitable services will. It certainly makes sense that the free project for the church will receive left over time, focus and energy, as compared to a profitable project. In these cases, the church project receives less attention and quickly falls behind schedule. It places all parties in a precarious situation when a church leader has to tell the parishioner, who is donating services, that the church needs to go elsewhere to accomplish the task. This is a costly mistake in time and money, and may also create a possible faction within the church body. I know of one church that had several families leave who were friends of the contractor, feeling the church had not been fair after moving in a different direction. When contracting with in-house professionals, make sure you are paying for their services so that your project receives the full attention, priority and energy that it deserves. 

‘Anyone can build this’

Another costly mistake churches can make is to think that "anyone" can build this simple auditorium or educational building. It may look like a simple project, and you may think anyone should be able to do it; however, I would recommend you select professionals that design and construct these types of projects on a regular basis. You do not want your project to be the one that a designer or contractor cuts their teeth on.  One of the primary differences in a commercial project that churches do not realize is the extensive "submittal and approval" process. This process is simply the submission of every item to be installed in the project (i.e. doors, windows, carpet, caulking, plumbing, etc). Every material selection and fixture that is installed should be submitted by the subcontractor to the contractor; the contractor reviews the submittals and then sends them on to the architect for approval. Once the architect approves the submittal, the product is ready to be installed. This key protective process is often neglected by those who may not understand all the nuances and requirements of a commercial project. Your next construction project is too important to think just anyone can do it. If you choose to use in-house professionals for your next project, be sure they are seasoned professionals who have a proven track record and experience in projects similar to yours.

A good way to use your professionals

I believe one of the best ways to utilize in-house skills and abilities is to place the volunteers on strategic committees to help provide counsel and wisdom to the building process. For many lay people serving on committees, the design and construction language is as foreign as the computer language is to me. It is extremely beneficial to have these knowledgeable individuals on your side of the table that can explain the language, various steps, and important aspects of a construction project along with knowing they are looking out for the best interest of the church. A seasoned contractor can play a major role in helping the church in the selection of a qualified and experienced contractor. He can verify estimate numbers, review prospective subcontractors, review pay applications, verify percentage of work complete and much more.  The same scenario is true for an architect. Designers and contractors do not have to be under contract and do the project themselves in order to be of service to their church. Standing beside the church leadership in an advisory capacity could be the best way to be of service.

You may be thinking that I am completely against using in-house professionals for your projects, but that is not the case. There are many examples of in-house professionals serving their churches in a contracted role and the projects turned out wonderfully.  Partnering with your church members can be a great benefit to the church; you just need to make sure you are aware of the potential challenges that are ahead, and plan accordingly.

Ed Varnes is the church specialist for Sauer Incorporated, a general contractor headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. He holds a BS from East Carolina University and a MA in Ministry from Luther Rice Seminary. With his practical experience as a bi-vocational minister along with his twenty plus years in the commercial market, Ed shares insights and perspectives that will provide wisdom for your next building journey. Ed lives in Jacksonville Florida, and can be reached at calledtobuild.net.

TAGS: Leadership
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