Building Begins with Vision

Said another way, vision and mission are the starting point and direction for your efforts and will be the lens through which many future decisions must be examined.

The vision of the church is a defining factor in many things: property size, location, building form and function being just a few.

Before building, you need unity in the body with regard to the vision and mission of the church. Without unity in the vision and mission, you will not have unity in the myriad of decisions that make up your building program. Once you have congregation unity in the vision and mission of the church, the other defining decisions concerning function and esthetics now have an objective standard by which they can be evaluated…by deciding which alternative best supports the church vision and mission.

Somewhere in the vision and mission statements, it will be helpful to provide an indication of the eventual size of church and the ministry focus.

“Winning the world for Christ” is a lofty vision, but one that lacks any detail about how you might do this. Consider this vision statement: “Winning the lost in our community through evangelism and discipleship, focusing on the youth and families of our community by growing and planting family-focused churches of up to 600 souls”. This vision provides information about what church is all about, how it expects to fulfill its vision and gives people a yardstick to evaluate decisions.

In the final analysis, the vision is the foundation that insures that what you spend a great deal of money and effort to build will be something that you will be happy with and will meet your needs in the future. Building on the clear vision and mission statements of the church, programs are the organized activities that will take place within the membership to accomplish the vision of the church. As a rule, the church should only support programs that clearly fulfill the vision of the church. The programs will be framed by the vision and mission statements of the church. The vision of the church is the lens through which many building decisions will be viewed, starting with programs. To be an effective ministry tool, the building must be designed first to support the programs and activities with secondary consideration to esthetics.

It is important that the church reviews all past, current and future programs and determine what programs will need to be supported by the facility after the construction program. It is important to list everything that the church does to insure that adequate provision is made in the new building to support the ministry. It is also important to remember that a building, in and of itself, has little intrinsic value to ministry, other than as a container for the activities of the church. While it can certainly be argued that buildings can be great advertising and give an impression of permanence, the function of the building is as a tool to assist in the primary function of the church.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some ministries and programs that you will want to consider:

  • Worship Service
  • Music Ministry
  • Elder Care
  • Baptistery
  • Fellowship
  • Missions
  • Benevolence
  • Food Bank
  • Housing Homeless
  • Sunday School
  • Day Care
  • Awana Programs
  • Christian School
  • Family Services
  • A/V
  • Tape Ministry
  • Indoor Recreation
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Community Outreach
  • Youth Programs
  • Evangelism
  • Biblical Counseling
  • Bus Ministry
  • Children’s Church
  • Adult Education

Many programs can share space & some may not even require any space allocation. As you list these programs, you will want to prioritize them, determine how many people (if any) are in those programs today and how much space and special requirements are needed by those programs. Next month we will see how this information will be invaluable in the next step of the building program…projections.

Projecting what you need to build to meet the future needs of your church ministry can be done two ways. The first, and most common, is “by guess and by golly” where subjective feelings and guesswork replace evaluation and projection. Churches may elect to build a church like one in a magazine or Pastor Bob’s church across town without serious consideration to the differences in function or demographic mix. One of the common results of this type of “planning” is churches with unbalanced space who find themselves in another building program before they need to be.

We hear from churches almost weekly that have plenty of sanctuary space but are critically short on educational space, or vise versa. Many of these churches respond with a knee-jerk reaction by building either more educational or sanctuary space without bringing the space into equal balance. Some of these churches are in their 3rd or 4th iteration of building unbalanced space always having too much of one and not enough of the other. Some have accumulated so much debt from multiple building programs that they are now unable to correct the current situation.

A planned approach looks carefully at who the church is today with respect to demographics and programs and the how the church grew over time. The planned approach will forecast future space needs for each program or ministry
defined in the previous step of the successful building process. The result of a planned approach is to provide the church with plans that, based on the best objective data, will help insure that you have equally adequate space for all
your needs.

Current demographic data is key to projections. The two best sources for understanding your demographic mix is a congregational survey and weekly, detailed attendance reporting. The congregational survey will help provide a snapshot of your congregation: family size, income, driving distance, importance of various programs, perceived needs and issues and much more. Detailed attendance by program (and age groups with the children) will help
forecast educational and recreational space. The participation of your congregation in various programs (Sunday school, music, outreach, etc.) will help you forecast future space needs (don’t forget to count the cars in the parking lot) for these programs. Taken over time, detailed attendance can very accurately forecast future needs and is a critical component of space planning.

Forecasting future space requirements can be done with a fairly high degree of accuracy. The goal of space planning is to build balanced space that will meet the future needs of the church ministries. Balanced space provides for equal utilization of all spaces at any stage of growth. For instance, as you grow and your future sanctuary is 50% utilized, your education space, fellowship space and parking should be all at 50% of capacity and should stay in step throughout the growth of your church.

Some necessary ingredients for space planning are:

  • An understanding of the current demographic makeup of the church by age and ministry
  • An understanding of what ministries need unique space and which can share space
  • How many people will be involved in each ministry
  • Understanding of future growth in the geographical area supported by the church
  • A clear vision of what the church is to become
  • Church demographics are ascertained by granular attendance records (per class or ministry and don’t forget to count cars on Sunday morning) and church surveys.

Trended over time, attendance reporting will enable you to ascertain each Sunday ministry as a percentage of total Sunday attendance. Other external ministries such as outreach or community service can also be scaled along with church size as these programs are often limited by the workers available for those ministries. Many of your ministries do not have full time or permanent space requirements and can co-exist with other spaces. It will be important to carefully analyze which programs or ministries can share space and plan accordingly.

Projections will come from analysis of past growth and current attendance. New programs can be estimated based on attendance at similar programs at your church or other similar churches. As we project growth in the church, there is a need to overlay historic growth with projected growth in the area. If the demographic make-up of your church is like that of the projected growth in your area, then church growth may accelerate. Conversely, if the projected area demographics become dissimilar from your church, growth may slow or become negative. Other factors that affect growth are changes in worship styles, adding or canceling programs and ministry, and the spiritual health of the church.

All of these factors, viewed through the lens of your vision will help your church building committee determine the space requirements for your new church. “We knew we needed to do something, but we didn’t know what so we called an architect and he drew up some plans.” This is a common remark that we hear from many churches. This comment is most often (but not always) followed up by a comment that the church could not afford to build the plans, the plans did not meet their needs, or both, and they had to start over.

Churches look to architects to help them determine what they need to build. On the surface this would seem to make sense, unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. As we say in our seminars and training, “there are two ways for a church to solve problems…throw money at it and make it some one else’s problem or roll up your shirt sleeves and put some effort into it (thereby saving money and probably coming up with a better solution).” What you need to
build is based on your particular mix of vision, ministries, programs, demographics and budget. The architect should have a good set of space requirements and a reasonable and defensible working budget before he draws the first line in a set of plans. Knowing that you know what you need to build and what you can afford to build before you call the architect will save you time, money and frustration in your building program.

One of the largest and most daunting of questions for most churches contemplating a building program is “what do we need to build.” The question behind these simple six words will present itself a number of times in a number
of ways, for example: “How big should the sanctuary be? How many classrooms do we need? How large should our fellowship space be?” Applying the articles from this years’ newsletter, we shall review how you can “know that you know” what to build.

It would be prudent at this point to define what we mean by the simple word, “know”. Knowing is not a feeling, a good guess, or even a idea enjoying high confidence level that results from anything except objective knowledge (excepting the possibility of divine revelation, of course). Knowing that you know comes from understanding what you need to build and knowing is the outcome of an objective process and prayerful consideration.

Fortunately we don’t need to know the answer to the big question of what to build, but rather, we determine this answer by answering smaller, more easily quantified questions that will, in turn, answer the larger question. You do not need to hire someone to tell you what you need.

There is no one better qualified to answer the question of what you need to build than the people in your church. What the church needs is someone to ask the right questions and help evaluate the responses in the context of ministry needs and budget constraints. You know the answers, you probably just need help with the questions.

Where do you start? Vision for the ministry is the starting point for determining your building requirements. A solid vision provides the framework for the myriad of decision that will be made during the course of your building program.
Leadership needs to seek the Lord’s will and determine what He has called the ministry to be.

What is the vision for your church? Who are you called to focus your ministry upon? Are you called to be a mega church with people and dollars in quantity and concentration that can do only what a church with large resources can do? Or are you called to be a smaller, relational church, replicating and planting other churches rather than to grow past a certain size? The correct answer is, of course, that which is the will of our Heavenly Father. Seeking His will
and vision is the beginning of any building program. The vision should encompass short term goals (1-6 years) as well as having a master plan for the church as it grows. Once you know the short term vision and how it fits into the larger overall vision, you are ready to begin earnestly planning your new facility.

The vision and/or mission of the church will give a picture of a “destination” but does not tell us much about how to get there. The church achieves the vision through the various programs and ministries, the day to day things that a church does. These programs and ministries are different for each church and encompass everything from Sunday School and Worship Service, to music, drama, benevolence, evangelism, discipleship (in all its forms), social and recreational activities, biblical counseling, and more. Your building is a tool in which you operate or support your programs and ministries. The goal is to develop a prioritized list of current and future programs and space requirements.

Properly done, the building will design itself based on the needs of your ministries.

With an understanding of church vision, and the ministries and programs that will enable that vision, we turn our attention to projections and space planning. Projections represent the best effort to understand your past growth and to project future growth. The biggest single asset in projecting future needs is detailed attendance for each of your current programs. Statistical analysis will provide a model for projected growth and attendance in your programs enabling the proper amount of space to be planned for a given total church attendance.

The best explanation of space planning is by a (extremely) simple example. A church with an average Sunday attendance of 200 in worship has 25 children in the nursery and toddler rooms and has a goal to build or expand a facility to provide seating for 650 ( 3.25x increase). Assuming that other factors that could affect projections, such as denominational affiliation, area growth rate and area demographics remain consistent, then it would be logical to project the space needs for the nursery and toddler area as 25 current children x 3.25 growth x 35 square feet per child, or 2,844 total square feet. How this space is provided, be it into 2 large rooms or multiple little rooms is a stylistic choice for the church.

The projections and space planning process will be applied to each current program. Future programs and ministries will have estimated figures for attendance and estimated space requirements computed. The final result will be space requirements by program which are then totaled (with allowances for those that can share space) into a total space requirement for your building with allowances made for changing demographics in your area, changes to, or additions of, programs and other factors that may influence your numeric growth.

Now you know what you need to build and to fulfill the God-given vision of your ministry.