Church Site Selection

Let’s use TEN STEPS as logical, sequential progress toward a desired goal. These are steps that you must be acquainted with as a church planter, pastor, or another church leader entrusted with this responsibility. Rarely will you find a realtor who understands the requirements of a church. The realtor is primarily a salesperson. You must equip yourself to make wise decisions. Rely on those of your church who have experience in these areas to assist you. Pastors should not act as if they are infallible in areas where they are not skilled. There is wisdom in counsel.

Step One: Locate a stable, growing region for a new church. Determine who it is you plan to reach. If an ethnic ministry is your plan, you must locate in a stable area accessible to that group. In other cases, set your sights toward a new growth area that needs a church such as you espouse.

Step Two: Develop a strong church of people before developing a church site. Every family can’t afford to own a home. You must develop the ability to provide your own site and facility. If your are relocating an existing congregation, you must determine the required financial capacity for relocation. Some existing, declining churches can’t afford to relocate; some would not succeed even in a new location.

Step Three: Give priority to visibility and accessibility. Locate major traffic arteries—existing and projected. Seek frontage on main local arterial roadways. Avoid natural and manmade barriers. Typically, the best choice is an R-1 residential zoning, although there are major city exceptions.

Step Four: Choose the site to meet long-range goals. Will you attempt to grow a megachurch; or will your strategy be to plant daughter churches? Seek to avoid limitations on growth. A basic guideline should be an acre of land for each one hundred people.

Step Five: Review all applicable development ordinances. Avoid surprises. Don’t mislead your people into a plan that is not feasible due to costs or codes. Determine the code enforcement jurisdiction, asking a knowledgeable person to assist you. You will probably have to meet the requirements of all these divisions of development authority:

  • The zoning division regulates site development such as use, setbacks, parking,
    maximum building coverage, or total impervious development, landscaping,
    etcetera. Is the zoning appropriate for a church site?
  • The engineering division controls drainage, erosion, pollution, etcetera.
  • The utilities division or companies provide guidance for sewer, water, gas,
    electric, etcetera.
  • The fire department usually regulates availability of water for fire control,
    hydrants, sprinkler systems (if required), fire alarms, emergency vehicle access
    around the buildings, etcetera.
  • The health department regulates kitchens and other food service, septic systems
    in lieu of sanitary sewer, wells in lieu of public water supply, etcetera.
  • The building department enforces the local building code. Beginning in July of
    2001, the nation will begin enforcing a new International Building Code, with
    local amendments. This division of enforcement approves building plans and
    inspects for code/plan compliance during construction.

Step Six: Target the most desirable site. Is it 100 percent usable land that is centrally accessible to the potential constituency? Is the shape of the site conducive to efficient development? Are costs and codes reasonable?

Step Seven: Make the purchase of the site contingent upon evidence that the property can be developed as a church site. Environment issues often create major barriers for development. If a special exception permit, variance, or zoning change is required, make the approval of these actions a contingency for purchase. Guard against deed restrictions that may be a problem in the future.

Step Eight: Masterplan the site before any construction. Work with a professional church site planner or church architect. The money spent now for planning could save vast sums of money in the future. Avoid destroying the potential of future expansion, requiring future phases to be hidden behind older phases, or connecting unrelated architecture or building sections without a harmonious unit.

Step Nine: Pay for the site before building the facility. This helps assure a safe equity position and prove the church’s stability for a building program. If you are borrowing funds, the lender usually requires that the land be paid for first.

Step Ten: Use professional church consulting services for counsel. By now you should be somewhat overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. Experienced counsel may ultimately prove to provide a major savings in development, rather than an unnecessary expense.