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We Have A Really Ugly Church Building

We Have A Really Ugly Church Building

A perspective on important considerations when selecting a building project partner.

"WE" are Faith Community Church in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

A friend of mine in Nashville, Eric Eitel, CEO of MediaShout, said, "George! You always seem to work in towns I can't pronounce!"

Before Hopkinton pronounced HOP-kinton it was Worcester. That's Woos-ter, not Wor-ces-ter. The town of Hopkinton is the starting line for the Boston Marathon.

Thousands of marathoners race past our property, but fortunately the building is partially hidden from the road that is a blessing. New England is a region of scenic hamlets with quaint center-of-town churches forming picture-postcard scenes but not our church. It's a very big, stark white box.

"Pure, Puritan drab," quipped my colleague, Jocelyn Pierce. 95,000 square feet of ugly! And the inside is worse. Pastor Mike Laurence tells me the local bank was afraid to finance the church building twenty years ago, unless it could be sold and made into something useful; you know, like a nursing home or school.

So the inside is a labyrinth of classrooms with plastic tables and chairs punctuated with oddly shaped bland multi-use spaces. First time I toured it, I thought the bank must have been thinking "prison" for one of its possible uses should the church fail. In fact, it's a testimony to a gracious God that the church has grown and thrived at all.

Our worship and our people have provided the color and enthusiasm the building itself works so hard to dissuade. We might have been able to just grin and bear it, confident that a building doesn't make a church, except that we grew to have great ambitions for reaching unchurched New England with a whole new ministry model.

Pastor Mike, realizing our ministry style had reached its peak, pulled together a group of our leaders and pastors to think and pray strategically about how to reach the unchurched.

We labored for two years, and one of our recommendations was to give our ugly building a giant re-do from top to bottom: make it friendly for the scared-tobe- near-a-church folks and the terrified-of -church-people people.

We wanted to make it child-friendly and youth-inspiring, and designed to be less of a school where one is taught and more of a living room where one is invited to belong a common area with a Starbuck's (sorry Dunkin') feel to evoke casual conversation about a serious decision of faith.

Our vision was to turn the worship center from a William Shatner era (think blinking Christmas lights consoles), past Jon Luc Picard and straight up to a Chris Pine version, with all the AVL bells and whistles to tell the Greatest Story Evah (trans. "Ever") to a skeptical New England world. Wicked cool!

But who could help us translate what we felt were God-given visions into reality?

We contacted a number of Design/Build firms that work with churches and even went a short distance with one of them, but still didn't get a sense that these firms really understood our dreams.

About that time, feeling discouraged that we hadn't yet landed with partners who could help us bring this concept alive, the team behind WFX asked if I would teach a couple of workshops on Team-Based Leadership, at WFX 2016 in Louisville. I jumped at the opportunity, not only because I love teaching workshops on church leadership and management, but because WFX draws leading-edge vendors and experts from all over, either to present or showcase the latest thing in church facilities, furnishings, technology and gadgetry.

Pastors and church leaders have the same feeling walking into WFX events as a builder does walking into The Home Depot: "Wow! Look at all this cool stuff!

We could do amazing things with these tools!" During my time at WFX 2016, I kept wandering into the Pastors' Center sponsored by The Goff Companies.

They had yummy sandwiches, chips and coffee and I'm sure they thought I was there just for the food, but I was actually interested in them. By the end of WFX,

I felt like the folks at Goff Companies were a strong possibility for a design/build firm. I chuckled to myself on the plane home because New Englanders don't often look to Texas, where Goff is based, for this kind of work.

Returning to Massachusetts, I shared my findings with Pastor Mike, and in just days, head honcho, Billy Goff and his team were in our office for an initial conversation. We are now eight months into the project, running a capital campaign for a $14.5 million One Fund, two-year campaign that includes the building redesign ($8.5 million), funds for a second church site (our goal is five more sites in ten years), and global mission work. In regards to the building redesign, we are excited about the way our design build team listened to what we wanted and then came up with a highly innovative design that accomplished exactly what we had in mind.

Why did we go with the team we chose? In preparation for this article, I listed out reasons we "clicked" so well with them, and the kinds of things other churches want to consider when selecting a build/design firm:

1. Do they listen well?

A Goff team visited our site several times in the early days of our interest to listen to what we wanted to do in ministry, before we talked about a new building design. They listened acutely as we described our new ministry model: what we wanted to stop doing and what we wanted to start doing to freshen up our outreach.

2. Are they innovative?

Are they open to innovative solutions rather than slapping on our site something they've repeated over and over? I am amazed at how the team took a big, ugly, convoluted building and designed a way to create good people flow, themed ministry areas, an enlarged worship center with new technology, and attractive "living room" type commons areas.

3. Are they budget conscious?

At every step, cost has been considered. We never felt we were being sold something overpriced or ostentatious especially for New England standards. The stewardship of God's financial gifts has been considered every step of the way.

4. Will your project be phased?

From "soup to nuts," each phase of the project is clear in its objectives, projected deliveries and costs. You can opt out when a phase is over and go with another firm if you want. You aren't locked in for the whole project.

5. Have they won your trust?

Trust is a big deal when spending millions of dollars. The above four points, plus the attitude and demeanor and work ethic of the Goff team, led us to believe we could trust them. It isn't as if contracts aren't involved of course, they are. However, even within contractual affairs, you have to believe in and trust the people you'
re in league with.

6. Are they competent and organized?

Well into the design phase of our project, we meet regularly in virtual meetings and review project planners and architectural designs. I bring my whole lead team into these meeting those most responsible for our ministry divisions and let them chime in on design features for their ministry areas. We feel very involved in the development of the concept into actual plans.

7. Are They Believers who "get" church?

I don't believe everyone a church deals with needs to be a Christian, including architects and contractors. However, the fact that the Goff team members are active members of their own churches, and understand what churches today are trying to do to become missional rather than static, contributed to their understanding of what we are trying to do and how our facility can facilitate ministry.

Upon a recommendation, we ended up going with the Generis Company, with Chris Willard as our generosity campaign coach. Like Goff, Generis "gets" church and promotes a very biblical and sensible campaign program. I'm looking forward to driving to work in the future and arriving at a structure that says in its design that Hope is within and a People that will love on you rather than ugly!

TAGS: Design
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