What is a Building committee? The term "building committee" is a catch phrase. It could just as well be called planning committee, vision committee, leadership group, church board, or construction staff. More importantly, what does this committee do?

"Who knows how to build?" and "Who works in construction?," are often the first qualifications considered when church leadership begins thinking of the building committee. This should not be the first prerequisite for building committee membership as your design professional will be the one guiding you through the building process.

The dominant quality you need to look for is someone who knows your church's mission and is a leader in your congregation. The visionary people in your church are great for the building committee. The committee needs to see beyond the current needs to the future needs of your church. If there is someone who works in construction but is not a leader or visionary, do not include them based on their profession alone. You should also have a financial representative of your church on the committee. The sometimes sobering issue of finances is a good check and balance for the committee.

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Church Mission

Since the building committee offers input on your church's future they need to be committed to the mission of your church. If your church does not have a mission statement, you will need one before you build. If your mission is not defined, how will you know if what you are building will help meet your future needs?

Building Committee Organization Guidelines

Here is a list of guidelines for organizing a building committee:

  1. Financial representative
  2. If you are designing a worship space, include an Audio/Visual representative
  3. Common vision with church mission statement
  4. Include leaders and visionaries.


To build or not to build?

That is the question many churches are asking--or at least should be asking--before embarking on a building program. The importance of asking a lot of questions up front cannot be underestimated. The fact is, a church that does not ask the right questions before starting an expansion project is headed for a disaster that has the potential to completely ruin its ministry.

Most aspects of life are a planned event, and planning takes time. This is especially true of building projects. Planning to expand a current facility or construct a new one should never be rushed and cannot be done during a weekend planning retreat with church leaders.

Nor should the building program be started because someone in the congregation was praying and received a vision of a new building filled with thousands of people. We need to remember the church is the body of believers, and building a church should not be confused with building a church building. The building of a church facility is a very practical thing, and we need to be very practical about our approach to be successful. If we are successful in a practical sense, then the opportunity is there for the ministry of a particular church body to grow and, therefore, be successful in the spiritual sense as well.

If a church body is not practical, reasonable and realistic in its approach to the building process, then it creates unnecessary and sometimes fatal strain on the ministry or spiritual side of the church body. In short, if you begin a building program at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons, it will certainly do more harm than good.

Here are a few sample questions a church should ask to determine if it is ready to move forward into a building program. Test yourself: If you answer yes to any of these, it is a possible reason not to build or at least a reason to delay building for a while.

1. Do you expect a new facility to grow the membership of your church?
2. Do you expect a new building to cause your congregation to give more generously?
3. Do you expect a new building to cause your congregation to be involved more in ministry?
4. Do you expect a new building to make a "statement" in your community?
5. Do you need a building to allow your whole church to meet at one time?
6. Do you have a large debt on your current facility?
7. Do you need to increase membership to pay for the increased debt of a new facility?

More than 50 percent of the churches don't have answers to some of these very basic questions and are not ready to build. Unfortunately, many choose to move forward anyway. But if a congregation has prayerfully considered the motivation, spent the proper time in planning and truly counted the cost, it can move forward with a lot more confidence in the project's success.

The People

If after extensive research it is determined that the church needs to physically grow to properly fulfill its ministry, then the church leadership needs to get a team in place to direct the path for future facility growth. Typically this involves a call to anyone in the church that has or has had anything to do with design or construction. This may not be the most effective way to get an overall balance in the team to get the job done. It is imperative to involve the right people.

The planning and construction of a church facility will be done in phases, and it is critical to have individuals with specific areas of expertise for each phase. Clearly the people planning the facility should be the end user. The best people to determine how ministry functions and the physical space needs are the people involved in actively directing each ministry program.

It is important to have a person experienced with finances to oversee the project budget, the construction budget and the accounting for fund raising or project loans. Nothing will stop a building program quicker than a misappropriation of building funds or the lack of a detailed budget.

The construction phase of the project is the perfect time to ask for involvement from the construction professionals in the congregation. However, make sure you empower people who have the knowledge for what you are asking them to do. Just because an individual works as a salesman for a material supply company or has worked as an apprentice for a summer job does not give him the experience to head up your new building program.

The key characteristic of the person in charge of the building team or committee is leadership. It is helpful if he has a good general knowledge of construction, finance or business. But it is his job to lead, and he needs to see the big picture and have a clear understanding of the goal the entire team is trying to achieve. The influence of the person in this role will definitely have an impact on the overall process. Choose this person wisely.

The Program

After a church has sufficiently answered the question of why they need to build and who will be involved, the next question is what to build. The vehicle that is used to define the question of "what" is called the program. It is a complete, written document that will tell the design/build team everything they need to know about your church's needs and wants. It is a list of ingredients, or table of contents, and it should do the following:

1. Inventory the existing facility. This includes size, location and function of all ongoing activities. Provide any current drawings and surveys that are available.

2. Analyze the projected new space based on realistic estimates for growth. This should include all the functions of the church: administration, education, childcare, fellowship, youth meetings, community space, recreational space, worship space and other large group gatherings, including activities such as music and drama. Additionally the program should give thought to outside activities such as open space, ball fields, covered drop off and parking requirements.

3. Conceptualize the overall project. Each church has a specific personality. This is something an architect needs to listen for and understand from the church leadership. This personality needs to be an expressed part of the program. Without a defined personality, church buildings become the traditional "cookie-cutter" buildings we often see throughout our communities--buildings that don't always meet the real ministry needs of a particular church.

If you have a very specific answer to the question of why you are building, your purpose or personality should become clear. Personality is expressed as a church describes how it handles praise and worship, or whether it needs a fellowship hall or more recreation space or more room for education and community outreach. This critical part of the written program is where a church body describes itself or its ministry for the design/build team in the size and relationship of the spaces in the new facility. It is not the architect's job to define a church or ministry but to design a building that will allow the church to function and grow.

Putting the ideas of the church leadership into a written document is a milestone in the process of building a church building. At this point the project has been conceived and has the necessary DNA to be a building at some point in the future. This creates a momentous sense of excitement within the church members who have been involved in the process. But this time of excitement also requires a levelheaded voice of reason that would ask the question: "Are we moving in the right direction?"

This milestone is possibly the last time you can count the cost without it really costing time and/or money. Someone should ask these questions: "Are we really going to grow 10 times in the next two years?" Or, "Do we really need a 10,000-seat fellowship hall?" Or, "Can we do some of these things we want to do in our current facility?" Or, "Can we afford to do this now without negatively affecting our present ministries?"

When the program is complete, then you are getting ready to present a building plan to the congregation to ask for their consensus and support. Be sure the vision you are asking them to see and become a part of is a realistic, obtainable goal. Building a church building is a practical thing--this is not the time to walk by faith and subscribe to the mind-set, "If we build it, they will come."

This is a point in the process to take time to stop and review where you are as a church and to prepare for where you are going. Take time to visit other churches that have done what you are getting ready to do. Ask questions. Tell them what you are planning and get their input.

Churches are not in competition; we are all part of the same body and are walking according to the same purpose--His purpose. One idea may be to partner with another church to meet a need in the community, and you could change your program to add or reduce space. Maybe you don't even need that big building.

When you have invested some time and thoroughly reviewed your program, make any adjustments you feel are wise and, once again, count the cost. Only then are you ready to move forward.

The Process and Project

Now that the project has been conceived and confirmed, a decision must be made about the process to be used to get you from concept to completion. This involves choosing the consultants, or team, that will come alongside your committee to make this project a reality.

It is important at this point in the process to let the consultants you have hired do their jobs. They are bringing years of experience and results from many churches, all of which will benefit your particular project. It is important to maintain a balance between keeping everyone, including the architect, focused on your particular ministry personality and taking over the architect's role in designing your church building.

A way in which this can be achieved is to establish a strict list of priorities that will govern decision-making during the design process. One example is to number each of the activity areas in order of importance (1. fellowship, 2. education, 3. worship, etc.) to allow you to make adjustments if the overall square footage is too large. You might choose to keep the square footage in the most important areas (1, 2 and 3) and reduce it in areas that are less critical to your program. Another idea is to list the activities that could use the same space in order to minimize the size of the new building.

Probably the most important priority, or governing value, is to treat the construction budget as a critical part of the program all the way through the design process. If while planning the initial design, someone suggests to add two more Sunday school classrooms, a red flag should go up. Two more classrooms could cost tens of thousands of dollars. It is always better and less costly to make tough decisions early in the design process.

It is the responsibility of the design/build team to keep the owner informed of all the issues related to the program, but ultimately it is the building committee leader who needs to keep the project going in the right direction and staying under control.

The solution for a successfully built church building does not really come down to how well the design/build team puts together the pieces of the puzzle or the size and color for each room. Success is determined way before the last nail is hammered and the seats are installed for the first service.

Success is achieved in correctly answering the questions of who, why and when. Who are we as a church? Why do we have to build? Is this God's timing for when we should move ahead?

If the answers to these questions are prayerfully sought out, then the solution for how to build the church building that is best for you will come much more easily. And the end result will be something you will enjoy instead of regret.

Dos and Don'ts of Church Facility Planning

Following these recommendations and warnings can save you from making costly mistakes.


1. Pray, plan and proceed. Success is a planned event. Make sure to follow a logical process in building a church facility.

2. Choose the right leader and team. It is imperative to put the proper team in place. The main characteristic for the person in charge of the building committee is leadership. This person must see the big picture and have a clear understanding of the overall goal.

3. Think out, not in. The ultimate purpose for a church building is to help a ministry bring more people to Christ. Make sure your new building will help your church serve a purpose in the community, not just make it more comfortable for those already in the church.

4. Count the cost. It is critical to fully understand the financial impact a new facility will have on the current and future ministries of the church. Establish a realistic total budget for a building project and consider the cost of future operations and maintenance.

5. Let the professionals do their jobs. When you hire a design/build team, let the people you have empowered do the jobs you are asking them to do. Take time to interview consultants, check references and give clear direction; then trust your team to achieve the results.

6. Choose the right delivery system. Low bid does not always mean the best price or the best finished product. Pick a company you really trust and put a system together so you can monitor the progress and measure the results.

7. Have a contingency. Construction is not a perfect science. Unforeseen situations do happen, and people change their minds. Make sure you make provisions to handle changes to the plan without having to stop the project.


1. Rush. The statement, "Anything that is worth doing is worth doing right," certainly applies to the building of a new church facility. Don't make short-term decisions that will cause long-term problems.

2. Have false expectations. If you think building a new building will increase membership, improve giving or involve more people in the work of the church, then you are building for the wrong reasons and are headed for possible disaster.

3. Over-build. If 100 people attend your services, do you really need a building that seats 1,000? Be realistic and practical. There may be more creative ways of using the facility you already have.

4. Over-borrow. The idea of building a facility totally debt-free may sound too idealistic and may not be realistic for most congregations. However, the idea of being burdened with extreme debt is even crazier--it's very risky.

Nothing will stop the growth of a church more than the straining of ministries and missions work due to a large debt from a building or expansion program.

5. Do it yourself. Some churches underestimate the value of employing the best consultants possible. Saving a few dollars now with insufficient planning could cost big dollars at a later time.

6. Think short-term. A quick solution is not always the best solution. Have an overall "master growth plan" before you make any decisions about new facilities.

7. Be Rigid. Just as each of us has a unique personality, churches each have a unique and special purpose. You don't have to build a church with a steeple just because that's the way it has been done for years. Express the traditions of your church in a new way that is both practical and dynamic and invites people to know and experience God.

There are many considerations during the design of a new church facility, ranging from building a separate worship space or a multipurpose space to the type of floor covering to the color of the restroom tile. Based on a detailed "list of ingredients" from your program, the design/build team should be able to design a facility specifically suited to meet the needs and goals of your church body.

Call your Parish office for more information on their Building Committee!
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