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The Client Is Not Always Right

January 31, 2013

Right Way, Wrong Way Sign

Does it shock you to hear someone say, “The client is not always right?” That flies in the face of everything you’ve been told about business…any business. The development, design, and construction of church projects is no different, right? As an architect or contractor you have to say yes to the church client, right? After all, if you tell them “no” they might just fire you and go somewhere else, right? Maybe, but I’d argue that if they are the type of client who can’t handle hearing “no” on an occasion you’re probably better off letting them go.

If a church is smart and has selected a project partner because of their knowledge, skills, and creativity and has not treated the selection process like deciding where to buy paper clips (who has the cheapest “commodity”) then they should be open to the feedback of their selected professional partner.

However, there will likely still be times in the excitement of the “dreaming and designing” when the church may go through stages where they get blinded to reality by their passion for the project. This is when a professional Integrated Project Developer like Visioneering Studios may need to step in and say, “No.” Remember how much you hated it as a teenager when your parents told you no, but then later you realized they were right, and even though you may never let them know it you were glad they were there to protect you from yourself and your rash decisions made in the heat of the moment.

I’m not saying the architect should tell you how you should “do church,” but they should push back on you to make you think about other alternatives and explore new ideas. It’s easy to get stuck in the mental trap of “the way we’ve always done it.” From our experience with churches nationwide, and internationally, Visioneering has seen more ways to do church than most anyone in the country so it’s likely that we can provide your church with some insight and ideas you probably haven’t thought of. So when a church says they want us to design them a children’s building with twenty 10′ x 12′ classrooms, my first answer is not, “Sure thing!” I will likely talk to them about multiple models of children’s ministry other than the traditional “Sunday School” classroom model first. Now, that’s not to say that for a specific church the Sunday School model might be the right solution for them, but that decision will be arrived at after some push back and evaluation of other design alternatives that are out there.

It’s not just design (scope) issues where push back is needed either. There are also times when push back is needed on the budget and the schedule. Regarding budgets I’ve heard it all before: “…but the bank will lend us more money once they get to know how important our mission is” (especially with a denominational lender); or “…but we really need to have that additional space and we’ll figure out how to pay for it later”; or “…but we’ve cut everything we can and if we cut anything else we might as well not even do a project.” Many architects would be fine with that response, because many architects act like they are a waiter, simply taking your order and charging you for the design regardless of whether you can afford to pay for the construction later. At Visioneering we think that is a disservice to the church and our goal is to make sure your project is designed at a budget that will get funded and get built. Especially in this current economic climate, you can not assume your lender will stretch beyond what is financially prudent for them and for you.

But what about faith? That’s the trump card that churches pull out, and I’m 100% percent on board with the concept of stepping out on faith and stretching as far as possible, but there’s a difference between faith and irresponsibility. Jesus himself said in Luke 14:28-30 that you should count the costs before you start or else you may run out of money and not be able to finish your building. So if I push back on your faith in your overextended budget blame Jesus, not me.

Similarly, we run into churches who believe that they can distort the space-time continuum and finish their large complicated design and construction project in just a few months. It goes like this: “I know its only a few months away and we just hired you, but if we don’t get the building finished by (insert “magic date here”…Christmas…the first of the year…Easter…fall kickoff) then the world will end.” The reality is while those dates are typically important growth times for churches, forcing unrealistic timelines will set you up for failure when the date gets missed. You will lose credibility with your congregation if you miss the date, or if you are somehow able to get the team to agree to a super agressive schedule you will likely pay for it in increased costs for overtime, rush deliveries, and other expedited reviews. Five years from now will anyone really care, or even remember, if you moved into the building by Easter or a month later?

Visioneering is an Integrated Project Developer, not just an architect or a contractor, so we take into account the budget, scope, and schedule on all projects and make sure they are in alignment and reasonable, and push back on you when they are not. We want the project to succeed for your church and for the countless salvations that will come from your new ministry tool, and in order for your project to succeed sometimes we may just have to tell you “No” because the client is not always right. If your project succeeds then we succeed, and if you trusted us enough to hire us as your professional ministry partner for this journey, then trust us when we push back on you at times. I promise we’re not doing it to be mean or because we want it to be “our way”. And it is actually fairly uncommon for there to be many points to push back on because we go through an extensive ministry alignment and education process with our potential clients before going to contract in the first place. If you would like to find out more just give us a call and see if we are a good fit for your church.

What do you think about hiring someone who might tell you “No”? Have you had good or bad experiences with previous projects you’d like to share?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2013 10:28 am

    The phrase “The Customer is Always Right” is a tool invented by bad bosses who were not interested in becoming good bosses. The effects of that phrase on our society have been devastating. Since we’ve all had jobs where that bit of foolishness was drilled into us, when we go out in the world we expect way too much when it is our turn to be the customer. The simple saying has wreaked a lot of havoc.

    What I want from someone I hire is the truth. Whether or not I have the ability to accept it is quite another story.

  2. Kevin Childs permalink
    January 31, 2013 11:39 pm

    What I’ve appreciated about Visioneering (in addition to the relationships with some great people) is that they’ve already delivered more than I expected. They taught me some things about the facility telling our story and protecting our vision/brand. And they continue to coach us toward what we SHOULD want.

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