Building a Church

Building a Church
By James Hughes

Where is the aspirin bottle? We are about to start a building project, and every one knows that a church-building project is a pastor’s worst nightmare. Building projects have been known to cause church splits, produce marital problems, inspire unusual sermon topics, generate conflicts with local authorities, take churches into bankruptcy, and many other frightening experiences. This does not have to be. A pastor does not have to be a builder to build a new facility. It does require a plan of action and a commitment to the plan without a lot of changes.

Approaches to building

There are several ways to approach a building project. A church can hire a general contractor, use a project manager, build cost-plus using a general contractor, the church can be its own contractor, or the men of the church can help build the building. Each of these options has its own unique problems.

If you use a general contractor, the cost can be anywhere from $100 to $200 per square foot; depending on the area in which you are building and the type of construction. (This does not include the price of the land.) The contract is a fixed price and will not change.

Building cost-plus using a general contractor can save money because the general contractor is guaranteed a profit. The fee is usually ten percent. This price, however, is not fixed, and can change based on changes in the construction market. For example, last year we saw over a forty percent jump in steel prices as a result of China buying up the steel production in America. There will be significant increases in the cost of construction as a result of the hurricanes this year. The savings using this type of construction can be around fifteen percent if managed carefully.

Hiring a project manager for a fee can also save money. The project manager will charge a flat fee for his services. The cost is usually between eight to eleven percent of the building cost. The project manager will obtain bids from four to five subcontractors on each of the trades and allow the church to make the decision on which subcontractors are used. The savings using this type of construction can be as much as twenty percent if managed carefully.

The church may act as its own contractor if it chooses. Some states require a contractor’s license, making this option somewhat difficult. If a general contractor attends the church, he may be willing to allow the church to operate under his license. If the church serves as its own general contractor, it would then be responsible for getting its own subcontractors. In this scenario it is advisable to hire a building superintendent to oversee the project. The savings using this type of construction can be around twenty-five percent if managed carefully. For example, I know a pastor who bought a new metal building on E-bay for forty percent of its list price.

Using the men of the church to build a project is possible, but this approach needs to be managed carefully. The greatest problem with this approach is burnout. Most projects take around twelve months to complete. If the same few men show up every weeknight and weekend to work on the project, burnout will occur. Churches that use this method should divide their men into several teams who work on alternating schedules. Building together can produce a closer relationship between men, but it can also reveal their shortcomings. I would not encourage a church to use this method to build a large project. The savings using this type of construction can be around forty percent if managed carefully.

Before You Build

There are many issues that must be addressed before a project can begin: Will the church remodel the existing facility, build an addition, erect a new building at the present site, or relocate to a new site? Each of these solutions requires a different plan of action. All buildings should be built to a code whether the church is under the jurisdiction of a building code are not. Buildings should be safe. Buildings should be handicap accessible and meet all Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

Certain styles of building are more expensive than others. The more complicated the structure, the greater the cost: Colonial style buildings are much more expensive than contemporary structures. Make sure that you are totally satisfied with the plans before you begin. It costs less to make changes to the plans before construction than after the construction has begun. Change orders are very expensive and can drive up the cost of the building.

Once the decision has been made as to the type of building needed, it is wise to enlist the help of local building officials. Make friends with these people; they can be very helpful. If your city, county, or parish has a zoning ordinance, you need to meet with the zoning commission to see if the proposed building is allowed in the zone in which your property is located. Churches can build in any zone type; however some municipalities have refused to allow churches to build in commercial zoned areas because of the loss of tax revenues. Even though you have an existing church, the area you are in may have been rezoned since you last built.

A feasibility study should be done before any building project. Jesus taught us this principle in Luke 14:28-30: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” It would be wise to engage the help of a professional architect or engineer from your area to help develop a master plan for your property. A well developed master plan can be helpful in saving money on future development.

How much land do we need?

Some areas require a storm water retention system. This could require additional acreage. Not all property is conducive to development. Property that has a drastic change in elevation can result in the usable acreage being reduced. Here are some general guidelines.

Two acres of property will take care of approximately 200 people. Five acres of property will take care of approximately 750 people. Ten acres of property will take care of approximately 2,000 people.

How large should a building be?

The size of the building needed can be computed rather easily.

Usage Size

Classroom 20 square feet per child

Daycare 30 square feet per child

Auditorium 12-14 square feet per person

Average office 10′ x 11′

Average pastor’s office 14′ x 16′

Fellowship hall 10-12 square feet per person

Average kitchen Halls 14′ x 20′

Men’s restrooms One water closet per 150 men, half can be urinals

Ladies’ restrooms One water closet per 75 women
Water closet stalls are 3′ x 5′.
One stall in every restroom should be handicap accessible, and the stall should be 5′ x 5′.
The occupant load divided by two gives you the number of men and women.

How much parking do we need?

Parking requirements are different from one municipality to another. Most use a one-to-four parking space requirement. The average American family has 4.1 people in it. Divide the auditorium seating capacity by four and this will determine the number of parking spaces required. Multiply the number of spaces needed by 300, and this will give you the approximate square footage of the required parking lot.

Article “Building a Church” excerpted from “Forward”. Article written by James Hughes.

“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”