by Don Hughes

Church Construction Projects Take Planning, Planning, Planning!
Anyone who has embarked on a significant project knows that planning is critical. It’s also biblical

by Don Hughes

King David advocated planning when he said, Listen to me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. (1 Chronicles 28:2, NIV) Often, though — especially with building projects — churches get caught up in the excitement of design, and sometimes they neglect proper planning. The more time church leaders spend planning up front, the more pain and frustration they‘ll avoid, and the more likely they’ll achieve their desired results.

Here are some key steps in the planning phase of your building project.

Build the Right Team

It can’t be stressed enough that a building project requires a solid team, made up of qualified individuals who share the vision for the project. The ideal team should include the project leader, the building committee, the capital campaign team, the builder, the architect, and the lender. Each of these members has a unique role to play, but they all need to work together to successfully complete the project. The most effective projects have this team up and running before designs are drawn or budgets are created.

The project leader is responsible for overall execution of the project and should be the single point of contact for all other members of the team. Contrary to popular opinion, the project leader doesn’t have to be someone from the congregation who happens to have construction experience; in fact, construction experience doesn’t even have to be on the job description.

The critical attribute of project leaders is just that — they must be excellent leaders, able to influence and communicate effectively with members of the building team, the church staff and the congregation. It’s helpful if a project manager has project management skills from any industry, and organizational skills are key. Most importantly, this person has to be given the authority to make decisions. In fact, the project manager should be the final decision-maker to ensure on-time and on-budget results.

Two more key roles are the architect and the builder. Selection of these team members should focus on their competency, character and chemistry.

Competency speaks to their ability to get the job done. Interview other church leaders with whom they’ve worked to determine their skill. Did they achieve desired results? Did they meet expectations regarding timelines and budgets?

Character asks if they work with integrity. You should choose an architect and a contractor just as you’d choose someone for your pastoral staff. Are they people with whom you can live on your team for two years? Further, will they make decisions that you can live with for 10 or 20 years, or for the life of the building?

Chemistry addresses how they work relationally. How will they interact with the other people on your team? This is another question to ask as you interview churches with which they’ve worked: How did these potential members of your team interact with people on their teams?

Finally, you’ll want to bring in your lender early in the planning process. One of the most painful situations is having a design on the table which everyone has enthusiastically embraced, and then having to significantly modify it because adequate funding is unavailable.

Including the right financial institution on your team will mitigate some of these issues. You should select your lender using the same “three C’s” focus. The right lender can tell you how much your church will be able to receive in funding, which will help you determine what you can realistically afford to build, as well as what you’ll need to raise through your capital campaign efforts.

Once you’ve selected the right players for your team, you can move on to the next part of planning.

Weighing the Costs

When planning for a church building project, it’s vitally important to have a thorough understanding of all the costs. Churches often focus on the hard construction costs without taking into consideration other expenses. There are three areas to consider: construction, design and owner.

Construction costs include all hard construction costs — the board-and-nail, brickand- mortar costs — of the actual building.

Design costs include architectural fees and reimbursable expenses; engineering of critical systems such as structural, HVAC and lighting; and consultants for soils, traffic, environmental and audiovisual and acoustics.

Owner costs include anything that’s not physically built into the building, such as furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E), financing costs, owner’s insurance, sound systems, video equipment, stage lighting, fund-raising consultant fees, and inspection and permit fees.

In addition to the actual costs you experience, you also need to include an additional five to 10 percent to address contingencies in any of these three categories.

If these calculations aren’t accounted for in the planning phase of your project, you risk being unable to complete your project as designed. Fortunately, if you have the right team on board when planning, you’ll be able to more realistically design your building based on real-cost estimates.

Planning is a huge part of a building project. Trying to plan after the project begins will cause pain — pain that’s preventable. As Jesus preached, we need to sit down and estimate the cost (Luke 14:28), and cost goes beyond mere dollars. It includes time, resources and people.

As you contemplate your own building project, make sure you have the right team, estimate the cost, and plan well.

Don Hughes, director of sales for the Church and Ministry Lending division of Evangelical Christian Credits Union (ECCU), has been a building contractor since 1978 and has been developing construction lending solutions for more than 15 years. Visit or call 800.634.3228 for more information.