"IT'S TIME TO BUILD or renovate or expand " Those phrases invoke both excitement and dread for church leaders.
Excitement because a new or renovated building signifies growth; You've outgrown your current facility and need to expand. That's great news!
Dread because the time, money, effort and details involved can be overwhelming. From building campaigns to committees, permits and drawings, discussions over flooring types, room sizes and color schemes the process will show just how well your team works together under pressure.
Here at Worship Facilities, we've heard the good, bad and ugly stories about church construction projects. We love hearing about facilities where people feel welcome, are coming to know Christ, and where they're fellowshipping with other believers. Whether that building is a stately cathedral or a converted warehouse, we appreciate the effort involved in turning four walls into a house of worship.
Who Did We Talk to?
If you have a construction project in the foreseeable future, we want to provide you with insights and lessons learned from those who've gone before you.
To gather the collective wisdom of those recently in the trenches, we conducted a survey of 82 church leaders who've completed a construction project within the last three years. The respondents represent a variety of denominations and sizes. 34% are in non-denomi¬national congregations; 22% Baptist, 8% Methodist, 19% Other (Church of God, Nazarene, Missionary, Charismatic, etc.), and more. They range in size with 52% from small churches (499 or fewer seats in the sanctuary) to 27% medium-sized (500-999 seats) and 21% large congregations (1,000 or more seats). We also heard from churches with traditional worship styles (13%), 61% contemporary, and 26% with a mix of both.
What's Being Built
A construction project can take many forms, so we asked survey participants several questions to glean the type and nature of their projects. Overall, 29% of respondents recently completed a renovation of their existing facilities. Another 29% completed new facility construction efforts.
We also wanted to know what elements were included in various renovation or new construction projects. Are churches focusing on specific areas or are there any trends to be found?
We discovered that in large churches (those with 1,000 seats or more), 90% of their projects included work on the sanctuary, gathering spaces (foyer/narthex), and meeting or classroom space. 70% of those churches also invested in spaces for kids' and youth. In churches under 1,000 seats, the projects were more evenly distributed between sanctuary, kids/youth space, gathering space, parking, and meeting/ classroom space.
Focus on Sanctuaries: AVL Driven
With the vast majority of respondents including the sanctuary in their construction projects, we wanted more specifics regarding what they were focusing on within the sanctuary. If you've been frustrated with your current AVL system, there are some encouraging trends within the responses with over 58% of participants including AVL upgrades in their projects. 45% worked on increasing their seating capacity and another 45% improved their acoustics. It wasn't just the large churches focusing on upgraded technology either. 57% of small churches re-sponded that their sanctuary construction project included AVL technology upgrades.
For all the children's directors and youth leaders out there, we also noticed some positive trends with projects in the kids/youth spaces. Among churches with 1,000 or more seats, their goals were overwhelmingly (60%) to create/expand their youth worship space and provide for a kids-themed environment. In the remaining churches, their focus was highly (57%) on expanding the size of their kids/youth meeting/classroom areas.
Another key construction area was in the gathering spaces of our responding churches. 67% of them had projects in this part of their facility. The top goals they had for this part of their construction effort was to enhance community/fellowship and increase/improve people flow. Those were the top goals regardless of church size, but even more so with large churches.
Who Are You Calling for Help?
Unless you have an architect, an interior designer, a construction manager, and others with specialized skills on-staff, you'll probably want to hire consultants to advise your team. Our survey respondents used a variety of consultants to help with their construction projects including Architects (79%), AVL Integrators (50%), Construction Management Firms (36%), and more. Architects & Associated Design Consultants were consistently the top outside resource used across the various church sizes.
Selecting a consultant to partner with your church on a construction project is a significant decision. Most of our survey participants considered a firm's portfolio of church projects as their top selection criteria. A close runner-up in their decision-making process was getting trusted recommendations from another church.
Of course, it's one thing to select a firm but were our survey participants happy with their choice in the end? There are several ways to view and measure satisfaction with a consultant. We asked a variety of questions to find out how our respondents evaluated their vendors from each perspective.
When asked how satisfied they were with their consultants understanding of how churches operate, all consulting firm types (design build, construction management, AVL integrator, etc.) received a 3 or higher rating on a scale of 1-5 with 5 indicating "very satisfied". This trend of rating their experience with consultants as "generally satisfied" went across church size and evaluation criteria (satisfaction with technical knowledge and skills and their budget control and management). When asked if they would recommend the consultants used on this project to another church, most indicated they would across all types of consulting firms identified.
It's difficult to tell from the data why respondents were only "generally satisfied" with their consultants. However, we did receive some notable comments from our respondents. One stated they would do "better research and vet a design-build firm and insist on 3D computer modeling to check for plan fit." On the other hand, one participant stated they were pleased with their process of "using IPD format with architect/construction manager/church CFO as executive team has worked beautifully through three major projects constituting $17M in aggregate cost of the last six years." (Note: IPD or Integrated Project Delivery refers to a project delivery method promoted by the American Institute of Architects.) One other participant recommended that churches, "select designers with a passion for the project and that will listen to the church. The lowest fee is not saving money in this case."
The Beauty is in the Details
Construction projects involve a plethora of decisions. From color schemes to building layouts and traffic flow, you'll have plenty of choices to make. Depending on your church governance structure, this process could require the involvement of various committees and leaders. You may have a Finance Committee in-charge of reviewing and approving the budget. You could also create a Building Committee specifically for this endeavor. In our survey, we wanted to find out how our respondents handled the gov¬ernance and oversight for their projects and how that process went.
Who's Who on the Building Team
Across all church sizes, the Lead Pastor was involved in the planning efforts over 80% of the time. Elders or Board members were key members of the team in 76% of churches. In 82% of large churches, the Business Administra¬tor played a key role in the planning pro¬cess. One respondent commented that they used several non-staff church members who had building experience on their planning team. However, while Lead Pastors where almost always involved on the planning team, over 60% of large churches had their Executive Pastor or Business Administrator as the primary project manager to interface between the church and contractors/con-sultants. In churches under 1,000 seats, that number dropped dramatically to 20-25%.
For churches that involved elders or board members, smaller congregations had an average of 8 people on their planning team. Medium and large-sized churches had approximately 5 people on their teams. A survey participant from a medium-sized church recommended that others "keep the main decision-making team very small. We had three people, which included the senior minister, the chairman of the elders, and one other elder. This allowed us to gather information and make decisions quickly. Decisions were made with a big picture perspective instead of having many people lobbying for pet programs and spaces. The congregation was incredibly gracious and trusting as they supported and prayed for the team."
Planning the Process
Before contractors start pouring concrete or hammering boards into-place, there's no shortage of planning that needs to occur. Even before you start working with an architect or designer, it's best to determine what you need to be able to do in this new (or renovated) facility. Do you need two rooms for each age group to accommodate the number of children at your church? If you have a Sunday school program, how many rooms (and at what size) do you need for the current size of your congregation and to prepare for growth? What atmosphere are you looking to create (traditional, contemporary, etc.)?
These questions are simply a few examples of what would go into developing a master plan for your facility. We asked our survey participants if their church developed a master plan before starting their construction projects. Over 70% responded that they did have a master plan prior to starting their project.
More Sense can Equal More Dollars
Of course you can have the best master plan ever devised, but if you don't have the financial resources ready that plan is just a nice stack of paper. There are several options when it comes to paying for a construction project in-cluding cash, loans based on pledges, bonds, or any combination thereof. Over 60% of our survey respondents financed their construction project with a combination of cash and loans. 29% of medium-sized congregations paid for their construction projects in-cash.
Now, construction projects are notorious for being over-budget. Something unexpected is almost guaranteed to come up. Wise project managers include a contingency amount in the budget for this very reason, however, some-times even that isn't enough. So, how did our surveyed churches fare on their budgets? 83% of our medium-sized churches reported that the construction aspect of their projects ended up staying on budget (17% went over bud¬get). Churches with less than 500 seats and those with 1,000 or more both responded that roughly 55% of their projects were on budget. For those churches that came in over budget, 50% cited "unanticipated project conditions" as the top reason why they had budget issues. One item to note is the larger churches did end up with 22% of projects actually under budget.
We wanted to hone in on how the AVL side of these projects went, so we specifically asked if that aspect was below, at, or above budget. 72% overall reported this part of their project was on budget. For budget overages in the AVL category, 46% our respondents stated that "increased scope" was the main reason. 40% of churches with less than 500 seats budgeted less than $50,000 for the AVL equipment in the main sanctuary, while 56% of those with over 1,000 seats spent in excess of $500,000.
Sometimes a church can absorb an increase in budget, however, most will take an¬other look at the finances and decide to re-prioritize based on the new reality. We asked our participants where they cut back due to budget constraints. The top two areas were furniture/interior design and AVL technology (at 35% each). Other areas rounding out the top five reasons included landscaping, parking lots, and acoustical treatments.
Another way to potentially reduce costs is to involve volunteers. 69% of our survey participants took that approach with larger churches using volunteers at a lower rate than others. The volunteers performed a variety of tasks including AVL installation, interior design, carpentry, painting, cleanup, landscaping, and more. 81% of these churches reported their volunteers saved them $100,000 or less.
While receiving assistance from volunteers can defray some of the costs, this may have mixed results. One respondent recommended to "not rely on special skilled volunteers if you want the project to move along without delays." Another stated, "We relied too much on volunteer help, or at least overestimated the availability and performance of volunteer help." If you decide to enlist volunteers, you may need to discuss deadlines with them in advance to see if they can meet those commitments. If not, you may want to proceed with hiring people to do that work or weigh the cost/benefit of possibly running later than originally planned on a few tasks.
Where High Expectations and a Dose of Reality Meet
If you're about to embark on your first construction project or even one that's quite different from your last, your expectations might not pan out. We asked our survey participants if the building planning and execution process aligned with their expectations. Overall, 42% said the process was about what they expected. That percentage was pretty consistent regardless of church size. However, where we noticed a departure based on size was in the percentage of large churches (40%) who stated their project was somewhat more complicated than they expected. Only 9% of medium-sized churches shared that view while about 27% of smaller churches made that comment.
Regardless of your initial expectations, construction can be stressful. If you've ever built a new home or had renovations done, you've been there. We wanted to know what the key stressors were for our survey respondents to hopefully help you reduce or avoid those issues. The top five stressors were on-time completion of tasks by vendors, permitting, changes to project scope driven by church leadership, reduction of project scope due to funding, and communication with vendors. Permitting seemed to be a more significant issue for smaller churches with 56% rating it as a stressor. However, on-time completion of tasks by vendors was the top stressor for large churches.
The Final Outcome
Most of our respondents completed their projects within the last year (51%), so their experience is still quite fresh in their minds. We asked what they would have done differently in the planning / design phase of their projects and received several insightful comments. One stated that, "Developing a master plan that covered stages more clearly would have helped our multi-purpose room become more appealing." Another said they would "pre-qualify and limit the number of AVL bidders. We were swamped by integrators and had a months-long demo schedule."
We also wanted to know if there was anything our participants would have done differently in the construction phase of their projects. Closely monitoring progress was a theme with our respondents. One mentioned that they "would have retained a full-time, onsite construction manager" while another church leader commented that, "I would have done more daily personal inspections." Other comments included involving "more prospective contractors for bids after the design had been accepted," and having "better communication to all stakeholders of any changes in scope and timeline."
To read surveyed church's wisdom from the trenches go to http://www.worshipfacilities.com/article/church_facilities_7_pieces_of_advice_fresh_from_the_trenches_of_construction