Planning Your Next Church


By: Darrel LeBarron

Sometimes the need for change in a church building is perfectly obvious:

* Your community is expanding, and so must your church.

* The make-up of the congregation has shifted, necessitating a change in how space is used.

* Your attendance has declined as the community has changed, and your building fits like clothes four sizes too large.

Trap: Often churches immediately hire an architect and enter a construction program. This is premature. Better: A comprehensive planning process that ensures that the mission and ministry of the congregation are reflected in the facility change.

Benefit: Church planning at this stage can reduce costs and increase effectiveness in two ways:

* By looking into less costly alternatives to construction, such as redesigning present space.

* By creating a design concept that helps the architect plan more usable space, given your needs. Bonus: A design concept also gives the congregation the facts and confidence needed to hold a fund-raising drive.


A consultant with experience in church planning can greatly improve the planning process. Reason: The church planner can provide valuable leadership and suggest ideas only an informed outsider would conceive. A church planner can be a key player in the early building process.

What to look for:

* Experience in the planning process.

* Knowledge of the pitfalls.

* Skill in group processes and bringing together people of various perspectives.

* Impartiality about previous plans or future possibilities.

* Ability to analyze conditions and suggest alternatives.


Consider what the church planner does in concert with a planning task force selected by the church:

* Highlights the church mission statement. During site visits the planner reviews the church mission statement (a mission statement expresses what the church considers itself called to do). If there is no mission statement, the planner and task force work with the board to have one written and approved.

* Determines the strengths of the church’s program and ministry. This is why the mission statement is important; the program and ministry ought to fulfill the church’s mission listed in the mission statement.

* Collects statistical information and draws up growth analyses and projections. Useful: Three projections for the next twelve years (each broken into two six-year segments):

* A straight-line projection that extrapolates the rate of the last three years.

* A pessimistic projection, using a low estimated rate of growth.

* An optimistic projection, using a higher rate.

* Surveys how the facilities are used by church groups. Are assigned rooms the right size for the numbers in attendance? How often is each space utilized? How many people are active in each of the church programs? What are the facility needs of each group now, and what will they be in the next few years?

Specifically: This survey attempts to find figures representing such factors as people served, average and peak worship attendance during the school year, and Christian education attendance for all ages.

Key figures:

* Worship attendance versus membership. In a debt-free church, worship attendance often is 33 percent of membership or less. A congregation with significant debt often has a worship percentage of between 50 and 80 percent.

* Christian education attendance versus worship attendance. In active churches, Sunday school attendance is about 75 percent of worship attendance. Application: In one church, Sunday school attendance was 4 percent larger than worship attendance, which indicated the need for increased worship space for people who wanted to attend.

* Considers alternative designs. The planner looks into ways to meet needs, such as configuring the present space differently or changing activity schedules. These alternative concept designs represent different solutions the congregation can later choose.

Example: A congregation with two worship services and a Christian education hour may be able to double the number of people served by going to three worship services and two Christian education times.


The church planner initiates action next. The time comes to decide which alternative concept design to use, and then the job is to implement it. The church planner works at this stage with a building committee. The following steps are typical:

* Set up a building committee. The church board or congregation needs to create a building committee to begin to decide upon and implement the building plans.

* Review alternative concept designs. The previous process presented the church with several alternatives. Now the task of the church planner and building committee is to narrow the alternatives to a single plan.

* Present the preliminary plans. The church planner now lays the plans before the congregation, covering:

* The scope of the project, including how it meets the challenges of program, people, and space.

* A cost analysis of the proposed design.

* Consideration of the congregation’s ability to undertake the project.

Next steps: The building committee takes the project from this point, leading the church into fund-raising, architect selection, design approval, and construction. These vital phases produce the building the church wants–after it has done its homework with a church planner.

(The above material appeared in the March/April, 1991 issue of Your Church.)

Christian Information Network