The periodic newsletter of the Barnabas Partnership, LLC
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Five Keys to BUILDING Success

by Paul Raybon


In a few weeks I will finish coordinating my third major church construction project. Little did I know 34 years ago when I served on a construction team as a Baptist Student Union Summer Missionary that concrete and drywall would still be major fixtures of my ministry. Fifteen years as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer helped build on that foundation and made fulfilling a responsibility thrust on many church leaders much easier. I have learned a lot over the years, gotten proficient at reading blueprints, negotiating contracts and change orders, and navigating through the permitting and inspection processes. It has not all been fun, but it has been rewarding to bring projects to completion that reflect the dreams of the congregation and good stewardship of God’s resources. Here are some key lessons I’ve learned.

1. Start with Ministry in Mind
Preferably ministry that you are already doing or have resolved to do! “Build it and they will come” is an empty dream unless you already have the people, the resources, and the will to use that new or renovated facility for ministry. And these days that ministry model had better include multiple uses by people and groups beyond your immediate church family. Otherwise you may be saddled with unbearable debt and maintenance costs on an underutilized building.

2. Choose Your Partners Well
The largest and most recognized architectural firms and general contractors will get the job done, and do it well, eventually. Recognize that the million dollar project that seems like the National Cathedral to you is really a small to medium client for them. Your project may suffer a lack of attention. On the other end of the spectrum, a brother-in-law or the chair of deacons may build really nice houses, but they have never had to deal with the level of complexity required by the Adult with Disabilities Act or fire codes for a public building. Are you prepared to fire or resent a church member if the job goes poorly? Find “right-sized” architects and contractors that have worked with churches, schools or other public structures, and you will have a better experience and less anxiety.

3. Ask for Input Early
A good architect or design/build firm will ask good questions about how you want to use the space. This is the time to use a team of members who will be intimately involved with the intended ministry and who are sensitive to the needs of the community and congregation. Help them build a “wish list” for the new space. You may also want to build a “kiss of death list” of items that if omitted or included would leave the congregation and donors very unhappy with the end result. You would be amazed at how important the size and location of toilets can be! Your architect can tell you how much your wish list will cost and you can make good choices about cutting back. Be very aware that the feature that you ask for in the beginning will be a fraction of the cost of a change order at the end. Once you have your design set and approved by the congregation, lock it in and don’t make changes that are not structurally necessary. When your contractor says “Yes, we can do that!” he/she is thinking “Cancún here we come!”

4. Visualize Daily Use
At one church there is a room that every time someone walks in, they reach for a light switch that isn’t there. The architect assumed that all the foot traffic would come through another door. In another place, you get off an elevator in the middle of a dark hall with light switches at either end. This could have been prevented. As soon as you have preliminary plans, and before you sign off on final blueprints, mentally walk through the rooms. Where do you need switches and outlets? Where does light come from, day and night? Where do you need additional storage? (There is never enough storage.) How will you set up wireless access, computer connections and visual displays? What does a child’s room look like from their height? And yes, you need to think about security and access control. Have a team of folks look at plans after you have done an initial review. Again, all these can be considered more cheaply at the front end of the project but be prohibitively expensive at the end.

5. Minimize Managers
Every contractor and architect I have worked with has agreed that one of the biggest headaches and greatest expenses in church-related projects is the multitude of “bosses.” Within a congregational polity we deal with that as our “normal.” But in the “real world” of construction, every delay, every change of mind, and every conflicting opinion results in increased expense. “Don’t like the lights we just installed? We’ll take them out. Where would you like us to put the first set you already paid for?”
Once the congregation and necessary shareholders have approved the design, have a small team to consider incremental changes to the plan and only bring back to the congregation changes that exceed the contingency amount of the contract or change the function or overall appearance of the project. Within that team, have one experienced and trustworthy person (and a back up) who is empowered to deal with the contractor and architect on a daily basis and make decisions that do not affect the intended function or overall appearance of the project. You should set a dollar limit, but keep in mind it costs $500 to move an outlet.
A word here about colors. Avoid the color wars. Let the team delegate or hire someone with experience and talent with colors and design to bring a color scheme to the team. On the latest project (basically two halls with bathrooms and an elevator) there were over 25 color choices to be made, from a palette of scores of colors. Last week we had forty colors to choose from—for grout! Multiply that by 7 or 70 opinions and you get chaos.  When presented as a scheme via color board or Powerpoint, almost everyone goes “ooh” and “ahh” rather than “BLUE!!!???”
I hope these keys have been helpful in unlocking your plans for building new space. Look for the E-ncourager blogs in coming weeks for some thoughts about planning for after construction. Through the Barnabas Partnership, I am available to coach your congregation and building team through the building project that God has laid on your heart.

These thoughts are from Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry for Western North Carolina. He is an associate pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders in the Western Carolinas as a coach and consultant. For more information about how he can help you, contact him at 828.713.6986 or
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