Master Planning

We need a master plan that will facilitate the ministry.

Site Capacity

Begin by determining the maximum capacity of the site. If all the land can be used (no wetlands or elevations that cannot be developed), we can usually plan on 100 people per acre for church use, not including the major sports areas needed for a Christian school. If there are reasonable setbacks and land coverage criteria (some codes limit the amount of building or impervious development) and sanitary sewer are available, this guideline of 100 people per acre should provide some recreation area. Landscaping and greenbelts may also utilize a significant portion of the site. The configuration of the land is another factor; a triangular site with building setbacks and perimeter greenbelts has less usable land. A rectangular or a square site is best.

Ministry Plan

Will the church schedule multiple sessions of worship and/or Sunday school? Or do we prefer a single service format? We must provide adequate assimilation spaces (education, fellowship, administration)—based on your ministry philosophy—to facilitate the number of people who can be assembled for worship. The space distribution must also correspond to age distribution. This provision of a balance of spaces for all age groups must be provided for each
phase of facility development.

Harmonized Phases

We will seek to harmonize the use of phase one space with the uses in phase two and then harmonize both previous phases with phase three development to limit costly remodeling. The final worship center should be located on the focal point of the site—advertising the primary function of the church: worship (not sports or classroom functions). Combine related functions (such as education, fellowship, and recreation) in the preferable pods (related functions) of development to avoid overlapping age groups or ending up with conflicting functions. This combination of related functions will also facilitate heating or cooling zones.


Plan for adequate parking for each phase. Use the same ratio as the household size (usually about 2.5) or a lower ratio if you plan more than one session of worship. This allows ample parking for exchange of spaces and facility occupancy. The site master plan should allocate areas for all future parking and other site uses, avoiding the moving of developed parking in the future if possible.


Financial capacity is usually another determining factor. What project budget is available for phase one? How much growth should you plan for in each phase? In most instances, we suggest you provide adequate facilities to double the attendance when your church occupies its new or expanded facility. Otherwise, the church will be overextended financially, or the attendance will be too small for the room capacity, leaving a feeling of coldness and distance.

Worship Center

The most expensive church space to construct is the worship center, especially if we address the preferences, aesthetics, acoustics, and comfort expectations of our day. A low ceiling in a room meant for a large crowd limits all three of these preferences. A minimal volume of air with the low ceiling in the assembly area means that the air must be exchanged more rapidly to maintain a comfortable temperature, thus creating discomforting drafts. In most cases for the new church, we save the primary worship center as a future phase in order to get more functional space for the initial limited investment. But we must still provide adequate worship space, even though the area may also serve other functions.


Classroom space is the least costly to construct, especially if the rooms are larger with flexible use for each age group rather than single-use small cubicles. The larger open rooms reduce the number of walls to construct and the
total square feet required to serve the functional requirements. Limited use of floor-to-ceiling movable walls can increase the uses of an area, thus reducing the total square feet of building required. However, excessive use of movable walls may eliminate the savings of reduced square footage, since movable walls may cost four times as much as a fixed interior wall. Freestanding, movable partitions are a much better solution and adequately serve the functional needs, providing that a compatible small-group teaching philosophy is in place.


An activities center (gymnasium, family life center, Timothy center, fellowship hall, or whatever you prefer to call it) may cost more than classrooms, but less than the worship center, depending on height and finishes. Functions must be carefully defined, along with desired finishes and durability, to provide a facility that will address more than a single use purpose. The metal building or pole barn without interior finishes or a masonry exterior is not compatible with most suburban residential settings. Without appropriate finishes, the functional problems and lack of durability are often undesirable.

Multipurpose Phase One

In most cases, I recommend a multipurpose facility for the first phase of development on a new site, saving the main worship center as a future phase when the church attendance is greater. The phase one worship area is usually a future fellowship hall or classrooms with future partitions. It may be a future sports facility; however, the initial aesthetics should address the primary phase one worship function, saving the sports equipment and finishes until a worship center is provided.

I strongly discourage a gymnasium for worship when basketball, Awana games, and volleyball are held in the same area as worship, or when acoustics do not encourage participatory worship. The sports facility does not address the expectations of a white-collar community; but the nicer facility will address the expectations of both white- and blue-collar preferences.

Movable, comfortable, molded or upholstered seating (rather than metal folding chairs) on a level floor, durable but aesthetically pleasing finishes such as a commercial carpeted-floor, adequate lighting, refreshing colors on finished walls and ceilings, and proper acoustics can make a room dimensioned as a future gymnasium an adequate phase one worship area. For the smaller church, a multipurpose area with a ceiling height of ten or twelve feet, instead of twenty feet for a gymnasium, can represent a considerable cost savings and prove to be adequate.

I do not believe the small church needs, or can afford, a gymnasium as a primary tool for church ministry. Rent a school gymnasium occasionally, or plan activities for the entire church rather than spectator sports for a few.

Inviting Features

The church master plan should always display an inviting entry visible from the site entry. Parking should be convenient to the entry, with designated parking spaces for the disabled and the visitors. Landscaping should be generous as a
sign of life, enhancing the site and blending the facility to the surrounding site. Inside the entry, the rest room entrances should be visible. The administrative space and entry should be apparent to the visitor.

For church services, provide a welcome center and greeters to welcome and assist visitors. The nurseries should be close to the entry and to the worship area, with other age group areas in age sequence to follow. We must always think of the church building as a tool facilitating outreach, evangelism, discipleship, and assimilation. Make the only opportunity for a first impression a positive experience. Then adequately facilitate appropriate
ministry goals for assimilation and discipleship.