Whether you’re building a new mega-church facility with a budget of $40 million or adding a new sound board to an existing system, you’re embarking on an expansion which will benefit from a plan and process. Although vastly different in scale, there are principles that can guide you through the process, both projects individuals and organizations who can help along the way, whether that’s engaging an American Institute of Architects (AIA) architect or having lunch with the salesman or tech rep for the new equipment.
For each project there are strong and weak approaches to ensuring the project meets your organization’s needs and vision. The way in which you approach the project might differ in scale, but the salient principles remain the same.
Your church, Growing in Christ Fellowship (GCF), is now at four services on Sunday and two on Friday evening. The 900-seat sanctuary, the overflow rooms, nursery and education facility are usually jammed and additional services are likely to be added in the future. The pastor and staff are approaching burnout from the workload, so the church board has decided that the time is ripe for a move to a new facility. Fortunately GCF leadership saw this coming five years ago and invested in 27 acres a mile or so from your present facility.
After months of discussion among leadership and seeking God for His will, today is decision day. Based on your growth expectations, and being located in a rapidly growing community of young families, you will build a new church plant anchored by a 3,500-seat main sanctuary and a 250-seat wedding chapel. You could probably double the facility size on that property, but choose to be prudent in your expectations.
Your pastor has enthusiastically embraced media ministry and has no fear of technology. He has had the foresight to learn how to work with media and truly minister through media. In other words, if ever there was an opportunity to be a 21st century church, this is it!
Last year you had your first meeting with an architect; Big Design Architects (BDA), was recommended by the leadership of a 12,000 member church in Capitol City. What you learned from both BDA and the mega church leaders is that major worship facilities are designed by a team of specialists who respect each other’s contributions and have experience in defining the boundaries of their expertise.
Your existing building was designed entirely by an architectural firm who also oversaw the general contractor. Your church hired a sound contractor to install a sound system once the building was well under construction, but you’ve never been satisfied with the numerous attempts to improve the system over the last 12 years.
Now the hard work begins. Your first order of business is to get your leadership team together and ensure you’re all clear on your expectations from the standpoint of the software; that is, your ministry expectations for the new facility. You begin by clearly understanding that THINGS WILL CHANGE! GCF is about to receive the status of Mega-Church, albeit, on a smaller scale. Perceptions will change the minute you announce your plans (if they are not already known). Perception is the prelude to expectation, so you already have something to live up to. From the foregoing, you had a clear vision from the pastor as a media ministry style church.
Once you’re settled on the above vision for the future you can think about the hardware and the facilities needed to make the vision a reality. Your team needs to make sure that the facility serves the ministry vision, not shapes it. During your research leading to these decisions, you have learned from BDA that the major congregation assembly spaces and their support systems will be designed by an acoustic and media design company, working under the authority of the architect. BDA is wise enough to know their limitations, and that the degree of expertise and required knowledge of technology is beyond the discipline of architecture. Together you have agreed that this aspect of the design will be conducted by Big Sound Acoustic Consultants (BSAC). This consultancy has a well deserved reputation for having designed some of the most successful worship sanctuaries in North America and you feel honored that they will be a part of your project. Even though they will be expensive, their expertise will ensure that you don’t have to incur the cost of re-working a failed construction project.
It has now been six weeks since you made your commitment. Today is the programming meeting. The next few days will likely be the most important period of the entire project, and will DEFINE YOUR CHURCH’S FUTURE. Your senior pastor and other major decision makers, including the present facilities manager are attending the meeting; some have cleared their schedules to be present for the entire period. You have already appointed a project manager. He will be the single voice which will speak for you, the client. All disagreements are carried to him, and he has the authority to speak for the church.
Since no one at GCF has ever been involved in a project this complex, you have engaged the services of an outside project manager. This is a relatively new concept in the construction of worship facilities, but other churches have seen good outcomes from having this person represent their interests. He is paid by GCF, and his only interest is your satisfaction with the outcome.
You have accepted the recommendations of BDA, and BSAC is contracted as his acoustic design specialist, along with BigElectric, BigStructural and BigPlumbing as the primary design team. BigBuilders will be the general contractor. For the next several days BDA leads the meeting, and BSAC is obviously the most important part of the remaining team. The other players come and go as scheduled to present their requirements and recommendations, but BDA and BSAC are never absent, and together they will provide you with a great facility, to the extent that you clearly communicate your needs, and have the ability to pay the costs. There is a saying in the construction business “Quality, Time, Money… pick ONLY two”. This is an inviolable rule. If you expect to have all three, almost certainly it is quality that will be the casualty.
Your first surprise during these sessions is how few of the questions regard your church’s desires on issues of size and shape and instead focus on use and vision. Prior to this meeting BDA has produced some schematic representations of the new facility, but they’ve been rather vague about the details. You’re hearing questions from them about frequency of services, how intimate do you expect to be with the congregation, what is the extent of your distant member vision (that is broadcast and internet presence), what are your Sunday school expectations, music and drama ministries, informal and formal hospitality desires and community impact? BDA and BSAC have already attended services in your present facility, (BSAC came into town two days early for this purpose) so they have a feel for your present emphasis. Now they want to know your expectations.
These can be rather tense meetings; and can cause divisions within the church. Churches start as very small enterprises, with each person in leadership developing personal expectations on the priorities of the church. Although over the years you have all learned to compromise and defer to one another, you have bumped into a reality. Dollars define priorities. There is a fixed budget for this project, an amount that the leadership has agreed is achievable for this project. As I said earlier, much prayer and consideration has gone into this project, and if you believe God is in it then He is also in the budget process. The assignment of dollars is the assignment of priorities.
In four weeks you will be having another meeting with the design team. At that meeting you will be presented with the programming report, if you will, the Project Bible. All parties agree that the programming report defines your new facility in terms of priorities and budgets. No further progress on this project will occur until you are all in agreement on the programming report. If it requires adjustment or even a complete re-write, that will have to occur before you commit to going forward. Failure in this agreement will mean no one is accountable to a single authority. That authority is not GCF, and it isn’t BDA. The authority is the Project Bible and any deviations from it will have to be agreed to by all affected parties as part of your contract.
Next issue we will look at the Programming Report, and follow GCF through the building of their facility.