Your New Church: Growth Booster or Growth Barrier


By: Jim Couchenour

1. Real need is the only sure foundation for success

If an urban renewal program, church relocation, planting project, or disaster eliminates your building, that obviously presents a real need. But for most of us, the determination of need is considerably more complex.
Because we tend to be emotionally involved in our church’s life and growth, an imagined “need” or subconsciously manufactured “need” for a building can occasionally seem so real that we are misled into an untimely commitment to building.

Usually these “imposter needs” center around using a building program to solve a non-building related problem. For example:

* To divert attention from an internal conflict;

* To strengthen a weakened pastor-people relationship;

* To rally sagging interest and involvement.

While many positive by-products do result from a building program, my experience is that creating a building program to solve such situations seldom works successfully.

To determine real need, let’s look at it this way. The building is not “the church”. It is primarily a physical space and attraction tool to be used by the church to reach people for Christ. To fulfill this role properly it must be both adequate and appropriate. While it will not directly cause growth, it may well inhibit growth. Understanding this, the question to ask as objectively as possible is, “Is our church’s ministry of reaching and serving people being limited now, or will it soon be limited by any or all of the following?”

* Insufficient space

* Functionally misapplied physical space

* Inappropriate appearance

* Inappropriate location

Your building program’s foundation is solid if your need is related to physical space, appearance, or location.

2. Optimum timing enhances growth

The optimum timing for expansion of facilities is when approximately 80% of your worship capacity is achieved for the first time.

While the “80% capacity” rule of thumb is sound and proven, the more important concept here is “upon reaching it for the first time.” Growth patterns, whether positive or negative, tend to feed on themselves. If we enlarge our facilities as we approach saturation, we permit growth to continue. If we don’t, we impose an upper limit on that growth and upon reaching our “facility saturation limit” the growth rate slows and eventually stops. So frequently decline sets in and the church embarks on a “roller coaster” growth curve, While there are, of course, many other
possible spiritual and administrative causes of a cyclical growth pattern, the facility’s “saturation point” has often been the reason decide early to capitalize on a positive growth pattern.

3. The building is best understood as part of a process

View the building effort as a “process” in the continuing life of your congregation. It is a very important element in that life process, but there have been others in the past, and there will be many in the future. It is only part of a solution that is most currently needed. Avoid thinking of it as a sort of permanent monument symbolizing the maximum growth you will experience. It’s just the current milestone in your growth, and that growth is intended to continue on until Christ returns.

Also, a very important point…there are other growth opportunities and challenges even right now. So, while doing the necessary thinking and planning for the building, allocate plenty of time and energy for current responsibilities and new growth opportunities.

4. Total communication transfers responsibility and generates involvement

Plan now how you will communicate clearly and thoroughly to all of your people, at all stages of progress. Thorough communication with your people is an absolute must. A program that’s truly needed, born of burdened hearts and properly timed, still will not succeed until the entire congregation understands the need, shares the burden, and becomes involved. As long as feedback indicates unclear perceptions or pockets of misunderstanding, communication must continue.

I have found that it is incumbent upon the pastor and staff to assume the responsibility for managing this communication process. And, it must be planned carefully. Lay leadership, of both the formal and informal
organizations, are important keys to successful communication.

5. Calendaring keeps the planning process on target

Plan now to avoid getting bogged down in the detail organizational process. This organizing itself is necessary. However, because of the detail and the committee process normally involved, progress very often ceases while
meandering meetings continue endlessly. This can best be avoided by calendaring these periods rather carefully, specifying the results you hope to achieve by a certain time. This calendaring may range from a very formal schedule issued to everyone involved to a very informal one which is not even written down. The function, however, is necessary.

6. Resolving latent disunity early keeps the decision-making process moving

Be alert to and plan now to handle any latent disunity within the church. So frequently, minor problems or conflicts that exist below the surface will find their way to the top during a building program. I suppose this is natural in that the multitudinous decisions required provide more than ample opportunity for differing opinions, misunderstandings, emotional involvement, and conflict in general. While creative conflict is healthy and, I think, even necessary, antagonism and disunity block the decision-making process. Everyone must be kept goal-centered, objective, and warm-hearted. Don’t let people begin thinking they are personally attacked when it is actually an idea that is being discussed. You and your staff are in the best position to anticipate this potential problem and see that it is controlled.

7. The best master plan is the one based on your philosophy of ministry

Master plan your facilities based on a well thought out philosophy of your church’s ministry. The value of master planning, as opposed to random planning or no planning, is obvious. However, even master planning can yield inappropriate buildings unless it is based on both your theological precepts and your translation of them into your church’s ministry. Some of the major considerations are:

* The mother-daughter concept of church planting. Just how large do you feel your church should grow before beginning to plant other churches? Should you think in terms of 200, 500, 2,000, or 5,000?

* The relationship of education to worship. Should the space be balanced between the two or should one be more heavily favored?

* The role of fellowship in your ministry. Should a fellowship or multi-purpose area be planned?

* The utilization of sports activities for outreach of visibility. Perhaps space for a softball field or gymnasium.

* The function of Christian day schools. Should space be considered for a day care, elementary school or secondary school?

* Other special areas of ministry in your church that have an important part of your total existence.

As you synthesize your church’s thinking on these matters, the major aspects of the building can be established long before the physical structure itself is designed.

8. A building that matches your people

Plan now to match the building design to your church’s group personality and goals. The implications of the homogeneous unit principle in church growth are being debated extensively today. I’m not sure of all the ramifications of this, but I do know that each church does seem to have a personality of its own. From a practical standpoint it is wise to take not of this in considering both the decorative aspects of the building- basic architectural style, simplicity/complexity of design-and the functional aspects of the building. Your people and the people you expect to be reaching must feel comfortable in the new building, with it being neither too elaborate nor too basic in their judgement.

9. Your building should have welcome signs

Let the building say to your unchurched neighbors, “This is a friendly place that’s easy to get into. We want you to come in and join our fellowship. Let us help meet your needs. We care about you.”

Help the designer make it easy for new people to come in. If parking space is readily accessible, if the entrance is easily seen, if there are no steps that must be climbed, and the exclusiveness of a fortress is not implied by the structure then a new person sees the “Welcome” signs he is looking for. Decide now to make it easy for new people to visit your church.

10. Don’t spend all your money on a new building

Don’t spend all your money on a new building! It’s very easy to get carried away by a “building enthusiasm” which grows into a vague, unbased, false sense of security, and results in overbuilding. This can lead to replacing vital faith in God with presuming on God for financing an unwise program, It is self defeating to commit so much of your financial resources to a building that new or expanded outreach ministries are inhibited.

I have found that a reasonable rule of thumb is to plan your ultimate indebtedness to be approximately two to four times your church’s annual income. This will vary depending on circumstances, but it is a good place to begin. The remaining expansion financing should be generated through gifts and pledges, preferably before construction begins.

As God leads you to see a real need, as outlined in Secret #1, He will also help you secure whatever resources are required. What I’m suggesting is that you keep in mind both Philippians 4:19- “…Your needs shall be supplied…” and Luke 14;28-30- “…Count the cost. . .”

(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)

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