Last year, Worship Facilities conducted a survey of church leaders who'd completed a construction project within the prior three years. One of the points we learned from their responses was how important it is to select a consultant (architect, design build firm, etc.) who'll be a great fit.
One respondent stated they would do "better research and vet a design-build firm and insist on 3D computer modeling to check for plan fit."
Another participant recommended 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."
When you embark on a new building or extensive remodeling project, you'll spend a lot of time with the architectural and/or building firms you hire. This is the team of experts you'll rely on to turn your vision into reality.
Since this relationship needs to be collaborative, we interviewed architects who've worked with churches to hear their perspective. We wanted to hear their recommendations for selecting a vendor and establishing a great relationship between church leadership and architect.
Here's what we learned:
Tip #1: Look for a firm with experience working with church leaders
One church leader who responded to our survey recommended "Be patient and don't rush into any one firm until you've been able to evaluate several contractors and visit sites they've completed and talk with staff to verify how their project went."
David Strickland, Principal with CDH Partners recommends church leaders, "Select a good, experienced team who has worked with churches. If an architect or builder isn't familiar with churches, you'll have to spend time educating them on requirements and logistics that are specific to a church. If they have experience working with churches, it'll make the project run much smoother and will establish a high level of confidence between groups (builder, architect and church)."
The president of CDH Partners, Bill Chegwidden, elaborated by recommending church leaders "Hire an architectural team you can trust. As you share your vision for the new facility, they may have questions or may need to challenge some of your initial assumptions. Find a team who has plenty of experience working with churches and has the professional expertise you can trust."
Nicole Thompson, President of Station 19 Architects offered this advice, "Church leaders should hire a consultant that has a heart to do ministry and is an advocate for them in the process. The firm should listen carefully to understand who the church is first. Hiring a team that understands ministry is key. This is going to be a long relationship; you want someone who'll be there to help guide you through the process."
Tip #2: Establish a single point-of-contact
Another finding from our construction project survey was the recommendation to "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."
This lines up with what we heard from David Strickland, "Outside of regular meetings, it's best for us to have a single point of contact. When you're in the planning and building process, you need to communicate through proper channels. It benefits everyone to have a good strategy for how decisions are made and how information is communicated between the church, and the architects and the builder."
Tip #3: Get the right people involved from the start
We found that across all church sizes surveyed, the Lead Pastor was involved in the project over 80 percent of the time. Over 60 percent of large churches had their executive pastor or business administrator take the primary role to interface between the church and consultants.
The consultants we interviewed had a few additional recommendations regarding whom to involve from the start:
"You definitely want the visionaries of the church involved from the start of the planning process. Having people involved that care about the future of the church from various perspectives; whether they are staff or lay leaders, young or old will always provide the needed insight to the vision of the ministries and will help us determine how best to implement it. For churches with existing facilities that may be renovated, it might be advisable to have the facility manager involved as well. They hear about all issues when something doesn't work, so they'll know best where the issues may be in the existing church buildings and grounds." David Strickland
"You definitely want the pastor involved from the beginning the person who leads the mission and vision. The facility should fall in line with that mission and vision as a tool to make it work. Also, get the facility administrator or Executive Pastor involved along with someone from the elder board or counsel. Establish a building committee from the beginning. Assign one point person to be the conduit of communication between the architect and Senior Pastor. You want the Senior Pastor involved, but have the point person be the Executive Pastor or committee chair." Nicole Thompson
Tip #4: Define expectations
When initiating a building project, it's easy for expectations to be high. Sometimes, due to a variety of reasons, those expectations don't pan out. About 42 percent of our survey participants responded that the planning and execution process was about what they expected. However, permitting issues, changes to project scope, funding constraints, and vendor communication were some of the top stressors for church leaders.
"We try to setup a project budget (including more than just the construction costs) early on in the process. Without a budget there's little discipline in making decisions. After all, it's easy to think we can just add one more thing to the project without it impacting the budget. That's rarely, if ever the case, so setting the budget early on and determining who has the authority to make changes is key." - Bill Chegwidden
"One thing that can create issues during a project is the potential of rising construction costs. We have seen costs change significantly on several projects during the time between the beginning of the planning process and the time that construction can begin. Some of the vision casting that has occurred in prior months may need to be scaled back as a result. That's obviously a disappointment to church leadership. Another item to keep in mind is the local construction industry. If there's a great deal of construction underway in your area, those projects may be absorbing most of the available labor and resources. We like to start the process of developing the design and involving a builder early to help assemble the detailed budget and schedule. This allows us to help develop and manage the project while keeping the budgetary limits in mind." David Strickland
Tip #5: Establish a collaborative relationship
With survey participants hiring a variety of consultants to help with their construction projects, it's important to find a team that values collaboration.
"Collaboration involves taking time to really talk through the vision for the new facility before the architect starts creating any drawings. It also means taking the time to understand each other and set expectations from the beginning. We start with a master calendar when we meet with our clients. We also need to know the church's budget (bottom-linewhat can the church afford?). If we can get a calendar and budget set early on, it makes the rest of the decision making process much clearer." Bill Chegwidden
"We find that when we open in prayer that decisions come and it's really exciting to see the unanimous decisions come with the committee. We're always striving for unity on a project. We focus on creating a vision for the facility that's in alignment with the ministry vision so that unity can come in the project." Nicole Thompson
Church construction projects involve countless decisions to turn your vision into reality. As you prepare to embark on a new project, take the time to carefully consider what architects and/or builders you'll partner with on this journey.