By Gary Nicholson
In over thirty years of involvement with church building projects, I have heard a few statements that always make me cringe when I hear them. I have seen many projects stopped dead in their tracks because of some of these very statements. Things usually work out, but often the project would have gone much smoother if these words had never been spoken. Watch what you say and try to avoid these in your conversation and in public pronouncements:
- “We will never borrow money to build” – Even the richest churches may need to borrow small amounts temporarily in order to keep cash flow going and to meet effective construction schedules. Retainers are often required to hire architects and others early in the project before cash flow even starts. If you can get through a project without borrowing, great. But early in the process, you may not be able to foresee situations that may later make it wise to borrow. You may later decide it would be wise to borrow a small amount and build more in a single phase rather than splitting into two phases, which generally costs more.
- “We will just borrow money from our local bank” – Shopping around for the best terms for a loan can save the church thousands of dollars. Although your good relationship with a bank may be an incentive for them to give you good terms, it may also be a reason to think they don’t have to. Local banks are often owned by outside interests that are not interested in church loans, and you may find the money will not go to local concerns at all. Shop around and examine your options before committing the church.
- “We will not do a capital campaign (or pay for a consultant to help us raise money)” – Although not a terribly popular thing to do at first, a well planned and implemented capital campaign might make a 50% difference in what the church can afford to build. To count this option out too early can be devastating to the potential of the church. The benefits go far beyond just raising more money, too. Well-run campaigns improve communication and build support and enthusiasm for the project that will pay off in a stronger sense of ownership, better understanding of the needs, and an eagerness to see the success of the project.
- “We will not build unless we have a (some high percentage) vote in favor of the project” – Rash statements like this indicate a lack of conviction that the project is even necessary. If it is the right thing to do, do it. Unless it is required in the church bylaws, why let some small percentage (or even 49%) of the congregation undermine what the majority, and even more importantly the leadership, thinks the church needs to do? Express your belief that the leaders have studied and are convicted that this is the right thing to do. If you are not there, then keep studying until you are. Only then will you effectively lead your church to do the right thing.
- “We will save money by using our in-house labor (architect, contractor, etc.)” – Saving money is a good thing, but not the only thing. If the parable of the talents teaches anything, we should see that preserving resources is not The Master’s primary goal. Getting the right team together is much more important than saving a small percentage of the project on fees. Some experienced leaders say don’t hire anyone you can’t fire. That’s worth considering before you get into a relationship you can’t get out of. Quality control is very difficult when you have hired someone you can’t afford to fire for fear of offending him or her.
- “I have a vision for the new building” – This is a bit tricky. I have met people who honestly believe they were given a vision for what to build, but it makes no sense. One said he saw in a dream that the building was to be round. To say this vision came from God raises it to a level that no one can question, or it calls into question the leader’s relationship with God. Such strong statements can drive the design and direction of the entire project, and may have more to do with what he or she had for supper that night than an actual vision from God. Be careful how you articulate your vision. Was it important that the building was round, or that it was a place for worship, gathering and community for hundreds? Majoring on minor elements can result in a disastrous waste of resources.
- “We know what we need” – This has often been spoken to me as a way of saying they want to short-cut the planning process and not pay full architectural fees. It seems that these are often the very same churches that most need a thorough planning process. Perhaps it is because they have made it a habit to short-cut planning they have blind spots to needs that have gone unmet for years. The value of a well conceived programming process can save the church thousands in building costs and avoid missed opportunities that can limit growth for years to come.
- “We don’t need an architect” – This comment illustrates how little the leader knows about the building process. Almost anywhere you build in the U.S. an architect is required by law to design any building that holds more than 100 people. Even other smaller buildings may require the services of an architect. States require this for public safety. You need to rely on a licensed professional to assure that your building is designed to be functional, safe, sturdy, and attractive. Good leaders should be concerned about all four of those things, and the best way to achieve them is to hire the right architect to be on your team and walk with you through the design and building process.
- “We will/will not do design-build” – Design-build is a good option for many church projects with the right design-build team. The project type, size and location may all inform your decision to, or not to do design-build. Keep an open mind about the delivery method until you have gone through the early planning process. Once the project scope is defined, you should be much better able to identify if there is a qualified design-build company that can deliver the right project on time and on budget, or if a design-bid-build process is better for your project.
- “We don’t need a master plan” – if you think the rapture will happen in the next 12 months, you are probably right. Otherwise, you need to plan your current project in the context of future growth. It is a matter of stewardship to plan for the wise use of the property God has entrusted to your congregation. Get an experienced master planner to help you envision and anticipate the future building needs of the church and how the property can best be utilized to meet them. Only then can you get the current phase right.
Most of these boil down to wise leadership and avoiding the temptation to make premature commitments and rash statements early in the process. Each building process is a new learning experience. Wait until you have heard the input you need from wise counsel. Avoid putting limitations on the project too early, and you may find that you have the information you need and the freedom to make the right choices when the time comes.
If you have already made one or more of these statements, it is not too late. It is better to ask forgiveness for speaking too early than to do the wrong thing in defense of your premature comment. Come clean, own it, retract it, and then let the congregation know why you have reconsidered.
Visioneering Studios stands ready to help you make timely decisions and wise choices based on the particulars of your situation. Give us a call and we’d be glad to talk about how we can help.