Besides “How much will it cost?” what do pastors most frequently ask about church construction? We asked six professionals in the church building industry for input. Some of the questions and answers:

What should we build: first; a sanctuary, education building, or family life center?

That depends on the ministry, says Buddy Siebenlist of Paul & Associates/ Siebenlist Architects. But his experiences as an architect and church staffer have taught him that the sanctuary should tee the primary consideration in any building campaign. “On absolutely every sanctuary project that we have done, the church has always experienced a tremendous attendance and membership boom,” Siebenlist says. A growing church means a greater base of support for a larger budget and building fund, however. So Siebenlist suggests that the second and third building phase of a rapidly growing congregation be started soon after the completion of the sanctuary.

How many people should our new sanctuary seat?

Twice the number of people in your current building. That’s a good rule of thumb, Suggests Mark West, business development manager for Century Builders. But he adds, “Obviously this needs to be evaluated against the financial picture of the church.” If your budget won’t allow you to build a sanctuary that large, choose a design that will allow you to expand in the future.

How large a building do we need?

That depends on how much space you allocate per person, says Steve Beutler, vice president of Miracle Steel Structures. The formula he uses to compute the size of a church complex follows. Spread the calculations throughout the sanctuary, meeting rooms, nurseries, and educational space of your church complex:

Age                                        Preschool     Grades 1-5     Grades 6-8      Grades 9-12        Adults
Square Feet Per Person          30                     22                  20                       18                     10

How much parking space will we need?

Begin by checking city or county codes for church parking, West suggests. Then figure out your current parking ratio. “If your own ratio is lower than local code, we suggest you use it,” he says. For
example, a city code may require one parking space for every three seats in the sanctuary. That ratio would be 3:1. But if your actual ratio is 2.5:1, and your congregation is comfortable with that, you should stick with it. The usual seat-to-parking ratios used by churches are from 2:1 to 4: West says.

How long will it take to build?

Assuming you already own a site, allow two yens for the planning, design, and construction of the facilities, West says. “Once the exact scope of the project is defined, a more definite schedule can be determined,” he adds.

Mark Ryczek of Threshold Design says you should also factor in how much time it takes a congregation to make decisions. “You need one tune frame in which to develop drawings and another in which to put up the building after getting support from the congregation.”

Ryczek says. Another key influence is whether this is new construction or a remodeling project.

A suggested timetable for computing the time it will take to build:

Task Feasibility and programming Conceptual design. Design development and refining. Contract documents, specs, bids Time till construction starts Construction (new) Construction (remodeling) Time 2 months 3 months 4 months 1 months 6 months 4 months

Should we hire an architect?

That depends on the type of building process you choose; with design- build, you don’t need one. But in general, Shawn Barrett, sales and marketing director for United Church Structures, strongly recommends hiring an architect because of the services that person offers. “It is difficult to get around using one because of an architect’s understanding of the unique functions and building codes for your area,” Barrett says. She recommends hiring an architect who is experienced at working with churches because the functions of a church are different from those of commercial facilities. “It also helps to have someone who is used to working with building committees,” she says.

Can we do the work ourselves?

Yes, with proper supervision, say builders such as Tom Lundberg of GuideOne Taylor Ball Construction. “We like to accommodate volunteer labor whenever we can,” Lundberg says. “But we supervise to ensure quality control.” He recommends that a church realistically assess the number of volunteers it has and the time they can offer to the project as well as how well they’ll work with construction deadlines. Manufacturers of pre-engineered buildings encourage volunteer participation. “Our buildings are designed for that, ” says Beutler. “The church can do pieces of the work, such as electrical or plumbing, or they can start with concrete and build the whole thing with volunteer labor.”

When should we start talking to lenders about financing?

The earlier the better. “Most churches can find out without too much trouble what kind of debt they can take on,” West says. As soon as you determine the general scope of your project, ask your builder for a rough estimate of costs. If the project is economically feasible for your congregation, have preliminary design documents prepared along with a budget. You can then present those numbers to potential lenders.

How do we get started?

Odd Brown of Jim Brown Construction and Church Design Architecture wishes more pastors would ask builders that question. “Most churches don’t know what committees they need and in what order, what the committee goals should be, and who should serve on them,” he says. His recommendations:

Form a committee of key decision makers to determine the ministry needs of the church and their order of importance.

Form a committee to decide how much money can be raised for the building project.

Bring those recommendations to the finance committee, which then can put together a financial package that takes into account current and projected debt levels, income from fundraising efforts and loan packages, and makes its own recommendation about the church’s financial limitations.

With cost parameters in hand, solicit bids for the design and construction. “This will help avoid purchasing $100,000 blueprints that will never be used because the church can’t afford to build the
beautiful building they just designed,” Brown says.

How much will it cost?

This is the first question that pastors ask, and it’s the hardest for construction professionals to answer, says Barrett. “The answer depends on so many variables,” she says. Her company provides preengineered wooden shells for buildings, so quotes on those are easy. But finishing costs for any type of construction vary according to location, materials, codes, and restrictions as well as what building firm you use.

Some general guides:

Least expensive scenario. The church is the general contractor and hires its own workers and subcontractors and puts up a preengineered building. Approximate cost: $60 a square foot.

Design-build construction for an average-size church (8,000-12,000 square foot) is a bargain at $50-60 a square foot. A larger building may drop the price even lower.

Most expensive. A Catholic church in a large city had to get approval from its diocese for every construction decision. That meant contractors and subcontractors had to finance the operation for almost a year. Total cost of construction: more than $190 a square foot. Average cost. For a preengineered package: $70-$85 a square foot. For traditional construction: $80-100 a square foot for sanctuary space, and $70-90 for administrative and educational space. Jennifer Schuchmann is a management consultant from Marietta, Georgia Her e-mail address is j.schuchmann@mindspring.commailto:jschuchmann@mindspring.com.

Copyright c 2000 by the author or Christianity Today, Inc./Your Church Magazine. Click here for reprint information on Your Church. March/April 2000, Vol. 46, No. 2, Page 11