Are you ready to challenge the “way it’s always been done”? If so, then lets jump into this post with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and ready to step on some toes. Is your church ready to start a new design and construction project? Everyone knows the first step, right? Set up a building committee! I think it is even somewhere in the Bible (wasn’t it the 11th commandment on the original tablets that Moses broke?). Then you must staff it with some retired church members who worked construction, a group of ladies who decorated the women’s restroom, and a dozen other representatives of every special interest group in the church so everyone can argue and compromise the project down to the point that no one really gets what they want. They can’t even agree on colors for the finishes so everything gets compromised down to ten shades of beige.Oh, and I forgot to mention that these people will also be tasked with navigating the maze of zoning, permitting, design trends, building codes, ministry functions, construction costs, and financing in order to build the right project at the right price. Instead of getting bogged down in the weeds, put all these people in a room together and give them the “big picture” task of setting the goals for your new project, determining your budget, and figuring out what your building (and site) should express to your community about your ministry, and then turn it all over to the experts you’ve hired.
I’m not trying to bash the people on building committees, because they are good people just following the 11th commandment, and they’ve never known there could be any other way. They are volunteering their time and investing their lives in the project as a way to give back and to serve the church, but with all the normal challenges every building project encounters is it any wonder that many church leaders say that their building program was one of the most trying times in their ministry? In my opinion the best thing a church could do is scrap the committee and select one of the talented individuals that was going to be on that committee and appoint them as the project leader, and have that project leader coordinate with the church leadership, all the various ministry teams, and the outside consultants (architect, contractor, etc.). Let the church leadership set the direction and goals, and then let the project leader coordinate the details with everyone else.
There are some other unfortunate results that sometimes come out of these stressful building programs. I’ve heard many horror stories of church building committees spending hundreds of thousands of dollars with architects to design and redesign a building only to have it come in so far over budget that the plans still sit on the shelf and the building is never built. That can shake the foundations of trust between the church members and their leadership. Even if the project ends up getting built the process is often so rocky and filled with problems that either the senior pastor or building committee chairman ends up leaving the church (usually involuntarily) within a year after the project is complete. Why? The typical church “building committee process” is not geared to give the project the best chance for success. Can a building committee work? Yes. I’ve worked with them a number of times. Can they be a great success? Yes, but more often than not, the success is not as great or as easy as it could have been, so why start the project with a potential handicap?
Stop and think about this for a second. How are buildings built in the real world? By committees of lay people working on a volunteer basis? Never. Developers and savvy business people know that for these complicated multi-disciplinary projects to be completed successfully they need knowledgeable professionals. They utilize project managers or small teams of empowered specialists. Do you think Donald Trump would ever pull together a volunteer committee from his country club to design and build his next “TrumpWhatever” Project? Not a chance. Even his apprentices go through a rigorous weeding out process on live TV (You’re Fired!). 🙂
“Design By Committee” works great! Just check out this video.
If you are hiring your architect to design a project, then turn them loose to design it instead of having your building committee micromanage the design and handcuff the designers. Building committees often suffer from “analysis paralysis”, and that often means the project takes longer and costs more because of constantly re-designing or making changes. Let the architect’s interior designer pick the finishes and colors. Let your contractor build it. Let your Owner’s Representative or Project Manager make the day-to-day decisions and lead the process and report back to your leadership team on a regular basis. Give input and review at appropriate times (and it is absolutely appropriate to push back or question your architect’s assumptions and design concepts during the process, especially early on, after all no one knows your specific ministry better than you). Participate in the process by setting out clear goals, programs, budgets, and parameters at the beginning, but then step back and let your hired guns do their jobs. At the end of the day, the successful completion of the project will make you look good, while probably saving you a ton of stress, and having a project that is more likely to finish on time and under budget.
What was your last church building project like? What learnings can you share with the rest of us?