The Importance of the Facility Manager During a Church Construction Project

A number of years ago, I ran across an article by David Strickland, architect from Atlanta. I was impressed by the article and got David’s permission to re-print it (Thanks David).  There is a lot of good stuff for your consideration in this article…so enjoy!

Some of the most successful projects we have had have included Facility Managers as an integral part of the building committee or vision team. If we do our jobs, at some point in the process the collection of historical information will systematically transform into a plan for new or modified facilities.

There are a myriad of details to discuss about the needs that will have to be met during the pre and post-construction phases, as well as functionality during the actual construction process. How do churches provide for existing ministries during construction and for the ministries that are needed in future following construction? Challenges will surface somewhere along the way for every church. Utilities may be off line for a period of time or some groups will be forced to relocate due to the activities associated with the demolition and/or construction work or there is an unplanned event that must be accommodated without interruption such as a funeral. The Facility Manager typically is tasked to work with the design and construction team to develop a logistics plan that addresses these critical times of the construction schedule. Thereby, when it is possible, preparation can be made well in advance of the actual occurrence so that everyone is informed, and that all ministries are accommodated with minimal inconvenience throughout the entire process.

“Facility Managers truly are a vital part in the day to day planning and operations of the church.”

In addition to being the source for historical information and the keeper of the construction logistics plan, the Facility Manager can also be a great resource to help in developing the plans for the future. Others on the team may have great vision for what could be, but there should be discussions of how the vision can be a reality with regard to facility use. What can be accommodated in the existing facilities and what will best be accommodated in the new facilities?

Day in and day out, Facility Mangers deal with the challenges of maintaining and operating the physical plant. This can be vital information for the architect and engineers. During a major renovation or during a period of new construction the economy of scale may provide great opportunities to reduce costs and to easily accomplish upgrades. These upgrades could save the church a great deal of money over time with regard to the operations budget. As an example–energy management tools are now available that will allow Facility Managers to plan, schedule and control heating and air conditioning operations well in advance of the actual date needed. This can all be done from their desktop computer.

Questions about the maintenance of new or renovated facilities should be discussed during the planning period. For example, a Facility Manager would probably want to know; what types of light bulbs are going to have to be maintained for routine replacement? What type of floor finish is going to be used in each location and how will it be maintained? How do we access new equipment for routine maintenance? There are many very good questions that should be discussed during the planning phase—a happier alternative for all than the same discussion after construction when it is not as easy to make adjustments to enhance functionality.

No two congregations function exactly alike. Where a Facility Manager is in place, it is always prudent to include them throughout the planning process. They truly are a vital part in the day to day planning and operations of the church. Invaluable assistance will be rendered by the remainder of the team–church leadership and lay leaders—as well. A productive team will be formed of individuals with varying backgrounds and experiences. Our experience indicates these diverse teams constitute productive, cohesive groups capable of successfully addressing every vital issue and making the best decisions for the ministries of their churches. All are necessary to making the team functional, but a good Facility Manager always provides insight that no one else can.


Security In The Church – FREE Webinar

Church security, safety, readiness and the like are front of mind issues for all of us. 20 years ago, many of the perils we are having to be prepared for were unthinkable.

In light of that, we invite you to join us Thursday, March 22nd as we discuss Security in the Church. This webinar is provided by Church Facility Management Solutions. Normally these webinars are only available to our membership, but this topic is SOOO critical that we are opening it up to the first 100 people.

This FREE webinar is designed for churches of all sizes and will provide timely information for churches wanting to start or strengthen their respective programs. Our special guest is Mr. Chuck Chadwick Jr.

Chuck Chadwick Jr. is the Founder and President of NOCSSM™ (National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management™); NOCSSM™ has helped churches of all sizes in multiple states with security and safety issues.

Chuck is also the licensed security manager and president of Gatekeepers Security Services. GSS’s Gatekeepers Program™ has trained hundreds of armed Gatekeepers in churches across Texas. As president of the Christian Security Institute™, he trains church security teams in both regulated and non-regulated states.

His three decades of private security experience, and over a decade in the Church security field working with large multi-site church campuses in Texas, enable him to address the unique security issues faced by churches of all sizes.

Chuck’s credentials include Certified Protection Specialist through Executive Security International, a TCLEOSE Certified Law Enforcement Firearms instructor, a Certified PPCT Defensive Tactics Instructor and a Licensed Level 3 & 4 Security Instructor through the Texas Department of Public Safety Private Security Bureau.

Please join us March 22nd @ 1:00 PM Eastern for this opportunity to strengthen the security in our churches. Click HERE to sign up, and send any specific questions you would like to see addressed to

Why Use Facility Management Software for Your Church: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our series on Why Use Facility Management Software for Our Church.  You can see the first 2 segments on our BLOG page.

In summary, we have established common language for this discussion and explored the first 2 most obvious reasons for using facility management software (Be intentional and Central Database/Repository).

Now, let’s expand that list and look at a number of other factors in making the right decision for your church/ministry:

  1. Hit by a truck: What would happen to all of your data, plans, procedures, systems, process, etc if the key facility person at the church was (heaven forbid) hit by a truck? Would you lose all of the data that is squirreled away in their head? Would you find yourself starting from scratch? What things might go undone or undetected until something major broke-down? Would you know where all of the files were stored and what vendors had contracts with the church or what promises had been made? I have met dozens of great facility managers. They know their facilities like the back of their hands and they are invaluable to their church. But…what if suddenly they were gone? Would you be prepared?
  2. Long Term Capital Improvement Planning: We have been pretty surprised by how many churches do not have an active “sinking fund” or some form of capital reserve process. When we ask them about their planning process for major capital expenses (i.e. replacing flooring, replacing HVAC equipment, resurfacing parking, etc), the oh too common answer is…”we wait until it breaks and then replace it.”  OUCH…that does not sound like planning! It is funny that we generally do a tremendous job when we plan for a building expansion or new construction project. We set aside money in a building fund…evaluate the costs…and plan accordingly. However, we find it more common than not that this level of proactive planning dies when a church moves into the building. Having a proactive means to project and plan for future capital expenditures is a key factor in using facility management software.

    “Trying to keep all of this in your head or on a legal pad will only increase the stock value for Advil.”

  3. Prioritize work: Does the “urgent” take precedence over the important? Does that last e-mail or call take you off task? Ever walk into the office and know you have a  million things to to…but don’t know where to start? Do you feel like you have a mountain of work…e-mail or projects or emergencies?  Well…you are not alone. Frankly, I feel exactly like that as I am typing this. I have a fence to repair, bills to pay, accounting to update, and so much more.  Well…the use of a software solution can be a tremendous asset to staying on point and keep work prioritized. If it was not for Outlook, I would forget where I am to be, everyone’s phone numbers and even when to take certain meds (I know…I am a mess). If it was not for my PipeDrive account, I would not be able to stay on task with the people I need to follow up with or to get a proposal. Facility management software can do the same thing for your facility team. It can set the priority of the work, set an ETA for the work to be complete and send e-mail alerts and reminders. Trying to keep all of this in your head or on a legal pad will only increase the stock value for Advil.
  4. Manage Vendors: Who is approved to work on your site? How do you track their names, addresses, e-mails, phone numbers, etc? How do you dispatch work to the vendors? Fax? Phone? Smoke signals? Most good facility management software solutions will, at the very least, provide a section to list all of the pertinent data about your vendors and subs. This is a necessity. The better systems will also provide a means for assigning work orders to vendors and dispatch the work orders via an automated system through e-mail, text messages or some similar method. We believe that these tools are vital to the success of your work flow and will save you a great deal of time and frustration in the future.

Well…that is it for this time…there are several more factors that need to be discussed…but they will have to wait until our next post.

By the way…if you have not already downloaded your free copy of our HVAC eBook…you can do so HERE.

Why Use Facility Management Software For Your Church: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our series exploring why using Facility Management Software for our church facility may be a smart move.

Last time we developed some “common language” to establish a baseline for our future discussions.  The terms we defined were:

  1. Work Order Process (a better term may actually be Work Order Management)
  2.  Scheduled Maintenance
  3. Capital Improvement/Reserves
  4. Vendor Management
  5. Equipment Tracking/Inventory Control

So…why should your church consider using some form of Work Order Management software or Facility Management software? Isn’t that just for big churches with big facilities and big budgets and big staff and big…(you complete the rest)…

If you have followed any of our past blogs, then you know that I have stated that our church facilities are large, complex commercial structures. Even if your facility is less than 10,000 square feet, it is a commercial structure…and it is complex. It may be the “house of God” but it ain’t no house. How many of you live in a “house” that is over 10,000 SF?

Regardless of the size of your facility, take a minute to answer the following questions:

  1. Does your facility have more than one HVAC unit? If so, do you have more than 5 “tons” of cooling/heating capacity?
  2. Does your facility have an electrical service that is larger than 200 amps?
  3. Do you have paved parking spaces with a curb cut to a city, town, county, state or federal road?
  4. Do you have an automatic fire sprinkler system?
  5. Do you have a fire alarm system?
  6. Do you have exit signs and emergency lights?
  7. Do you have ceilings higher than 10 feet with light fixtures in those ceilings?
  8. Is any part of your roof over 30 feet tall?
  9. Do you have more than one 40 gallon water heater?
  10. Is any part of your building made of steel/metal?

If you answered yes to 2 or more of the above questions, then you likely have a complex, commercial structure and with that type of structure comes the need for scheduled maintenance, repairs, service, etc. In most cases, these tasks exceed the ability of the typical “residential” handyman. They need to be completed by skilled professionals in these trades…whether from inside your congregation or not.

I can hear you saying…“OK…we agree with you in principle…but so what?” Good question.

Let me start with 2 of the most obvious this week, and then address more next week.

  1. BE INTENTIONAL:  There is a quote that most of you have heard…but I believe it is so appropriate for this discussion...“People do not plan to fail, we fail to plan”. We do not plan to forget to change the HVAC filters or to clean the coils or to clean the carpet. However, without a plan, these things become lost in the hustle and bustle of the “urgent” items that consume our daily activities. When that happens, the low cost maintenance items become higher cost repair issues (i.e. deferred maintenance). Having a proactive system that will serve as your “reminder” for these items will not only save you time, but assist you in being intentional with the care and maintenance of your facility…remember, these facilities were entrusted to our care.
  2. CENTRAL DATA BASE/REPOSITORY: Do you have a spreadsheet here…a post-it note there…an e-mail requesting work be done…a legal pad full of ideas…your computer calendar with dozens of reminders? Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception.  We met with a new client the other day who said “When all 4 of us involved in the care of our facility are together, we then have all the needed data”.  So, what happens when only 2 of them are together…do they only have 50% of the needed data and information? We are hearing this over and over from small churches to those with hundreds of thousands of square feet. This “plague” is an equal opportunity offender. Having a single source to input and store your facilities data is critical. You need to have a single secure place to store data, process work orders, track historical data, evaluate work orders and manage vendors…and it needs to be accessible to all the key players and stakeholders at the church. Without this single repository, you will always be subject to missing critical data when you need it most.

There are a number of other critical issues to discuss…so join me next time…and please join in and provide some insights that may help all of our readers.

7 Tips for Addressing High Traffic Restrooms

If you attend a church with multiple services (whether that is multiple worship services or worship with educational), you probably have limited time between your services. One of our Project Management/Owner’s Rep clients in Charlotte has 3, back-to-back-to-back, worship services with only 15 minutes between each service…which is a challenge for the parking lot ministry as well as the cafe and lobby. But what about the restrooms? Yep…they are high traffic during that 15 minute period. We do not give our facility restrooms the needed attention until we realize they are inadequate to meet the “bio-break” needs of the congregation, we get complaints and/or you are on the facility team and have to care for these high-traffic areas.

I was recently reading an article in “Building Operating Management” magazine by David Lewellen on high-traffic restrooms. Not really my normal reading material, not even bathroom reading…but it was interesting.

“We do not give our facility restrooms the needed attention until we realize they are inadequate to meet the “bio-break” needs of the congregation.”

Mr. Lewellan provided 7 tips for design and ongoing maintenance of these spaces. Most of his examples were focused on non-church related facilities, but the principles still apply. In fact, his references to venues such as arenas, stadiums and the like are very much in keeping with church facilities. Our church facilities are actually far more similar in use and heavy traffic to a sports stadium, concert venue or performing arts center than they are to an office park or retail center. Lots on people come on the premises and exit in droves. There is a huge demand for parking, ingress, egress…and restrooms…at very definitive and concentrated times. More on that another day.

Back to the restrooms…here are the 7 tips that the article outlined:

  1. Remember the Larger Context – Besides your lobby and worship center, the restroom is likely to be one of the spaces in your facility that a first-time guest will visit…so they may very well form an impression of your church from their visit to your restroom. Vincent Maiello, designer of the Philadelphia airport restrooms (another VERY high traffic area…I know) gave this quote, “It doesn’t necessarily cost more to do them nicely. Red tile doesn’t cost more than white tile.” It does require you to be intentional!
  2. Keep Your Eyes Open to Visual Factors  “Where are your restrooms?” is not a great conversation starter with a guest to your church…so signage and wayfinding are critical. We have talked about this before, so I will not belabor the point. But this is important stuff to our guests. In addition, think about these visual factors: a) Most people use the toilet, sink and dryer…in that order, and the traffic pattern should reflect that flow; b) Stall doors should stand at a slight angle when open, so that people can see at a glance which ones are available
  3. Know Your Users – This may sounds basic, but we generally fail to consider who is using our facilities. For example, if your church is comprised of a lot of families with small children, you may want more than one baby changing station and you may need space for strollers. Make sure you don’t just assume that “one restroom fits all”.
  4. Choose the Right Materials  What is the right wall material in a restroom? I can tell you this, painted drywall in your wet areas is not great. At the same time, concrete block, while durable in a locker room, may not convey the story you wish to your guests. Smaller tiles can be more slip resistant due to more grout lines…or if larger times are desire, get a slip-resistant texture. What’s the word? Oh yeah…intentional!
  5. Make Sustainability a Priority  We are all moving to a more “green” built environment. Low-flow toilets and faucets are becoming the norm. Power hand dryers are the default of choice in many high-traffic restrooms in order to reduce paper towel usage. Occupancy sensors are another great way to save energy.
  6. Take a Close Look at Technology  Touch-free system benefits to high traffic areas for more reasons than just going “green.” In many public spaces, people do not flush to avoid touching the handles or they would use their foot, which could damage the valves.  According to one of the experts in the article, most facilities are choosing battery-operated and just adding the replacement of the batteries to a regular checklist.
  7. Make Maintenance Top of Mind –Talk to your facility team! Get them involved. Think about options such as wall-mounted toilets or ceiling hung partitions to make the floors easier to clean. How do you keep up with the supplies during your service times? Some people will use the larger rolls of toilet paper to reduce the frequency of changing while others offer cabinets or some other stall storage of supplies.

BONUS – This was not in the article…but remember, potty parity is a serious issue. According to research done in the United Kingdom, women spend an average of 1 year, 7 months, and 15 days longer in the bathroom than men. Just saying. Be cognizant of the ratio of men and women’s facilities.

I realize that people do not come to your church for the primary purpose of using your restroom facilities…but they will use them, and it will make an impression.

Why Use Facility Management Software for Your Church: Part 1

How do you track and process work requests at your facility:

Legal Pad?

Excel spreadsheet?

Post-it Notes?

Cross your fingers, then hope and pray?

I would like to explore a better option for tracking work orders, service history, equipment inventory and condition, capital improvements, defective equipment log, vendor log, on-site maintenance, staff assignments…and so much more. We will take the next several weeks to investigate the needs of most churches to track work orders as well as being proactive tracking capital improvements to assist in your annual budgeting process.

To get started let’s develop some common language…here are some words and phrases that will help us in this discussion:

  1. Work Order Process: This process generally starts with a request from within your church/ministry that someone is asking to be addressed (i.e. It is too hot in our classroom, the copier is not working, the toilet is clogged, etc…sound familiar?). The work order is the necessary processed so that your team can facilitate the inspection, review, acceptance and fulfillment of the work order.
  2. Scheduled Maintenance: Work that reoccurs on a regular basis (or should occur on a regular basis).  These can include Preventive Maintenance items (i.e. HVAC servicing, changing filters, systematic replacement of light bulbs, certification of fire extinguishers, regular maintenance on elevators and other systems with moving parts) as well as other items that need to be scheduled and tracked on a regular basis (i.e. housekeeping items, yard maintenance, mulch in the plant beds, window cleaning, carpet cleaning, etc, etc, etc).
  3. Capital Improvement/Reserves: These are items that are identified as having a predicted life cycle with a predetermined or expected end of its useful life/service. These would be items that would require capital funds to replace or significantly modify in order to extend or start a new Life Cycle (i.e. replacement of HVAC equipment, paving in the parking lot, replacing or re-coating roofing materials, replacement of floor coverings, etc).
  4. Vendor Management: Who does work on your facility? Is it by on-staff personnel…outside vendors…volunteers? Regardless of who does the work, you need to assign the work and then follow up on the completion of the work. You also need to track Certificates of Insurance for vendors that are not on staff at the church. There needs to be clear and definitive communication to all personnel that are performing services for the church including the assigning of work, tracking of the work, issuing the proper paper work (i.e. work orders, PO’s, work scopes, “not to exceed” amounts for the work, warranty fulfillment…and so much more). All of this would fall under the category of Vendor Management.
  5. Equipment Tracking/Inventory Control: Your facility has HVAC equipment, light fixtures, bulbs, plumbing fixtures, water heaters, kitchen equipment, IT equipment, office equipment, yard equipment, cleaning equipment…and the list goes on.  So…what is your process for tracking the manufacturer, make, model, components, warranty remaining, quantity of items, service history (when was the last time this was serviced, repaired or replaced) and other aspects associated with this equipment? Do you even know the make and model number of all of your equipment…if not…why not?

OK…now that we have started to develop a common language, we will explore how a process and system can be developed to help you with managing your facilities. To keep this all in perspective, let’s not forget that our ministry facilities are large, complex, commercial structures…with lots of very expensive moving parts that need to be maintained, serviced and repaired. These facilities have been ENTRUSTED to us…so let’s do our part to steward them.

More to come next time…

Is Financial Stewardship More Important Than Facility Stewardship?

I am a firm believer that everything on earth belongs to God. Our money. Our houses. Our cars. The word of God. Our families. The people we encounter…and the facilities we worship in. I believe that God has entrusted us with the stewarding of all of these items. For me, I believe that stewardship is less about what we give and more about taking care of what we have been GIVEN…entrusted to us!

So, how do we define entrusted? According to, it can be defined as follows:

ENTRUST: to charge or invest with a trust or responsibility; to commit (something) in trust to; confide, as for care, use, or performance

What does that mean to you? To me, it means that when something (or someone) is entrusted to me, I am responsible to  care for it…to be in charge of it…to be responsible for it…sounds a lot like stewardship.

If you have grown up in the church or been involved in church for any period of time, you have heard the term “stewardship”…and I am sure that in almost every case, it revolved around money or raising money. In these cases, we are generally talking about financial stewardship which is a critical element of our spiritual life as well as the life of our ministries.

But stewardship is not just about money and finances…but refers to (as its definition above indicates) the caring for or oversight of something of someone else.

So, how do we apply this to our ministry facilities? Do we really believe that God has entrusted these to us, thus making us stewards of their care and oversight? I have witnessed churches and ministries spending millions of dollars in the construction and renovation of their facilities…but then fail to maintain them (i.e. steward them). They wave the banner of “stewardship” when raising money to build them…but then neglect to steward them after dedication (i.e. care, management and maintenance).

Now, I do not know very many churches that are not using some form of accounting software/system to manage their flow of “stewarded monies” and track  congregant giving. Most, if not all, are not using a abacus to count these monies. This is great and I applaud churches for being diligent with the money entrusted to them. Many churches use membership management software/systems to steward the people God has entrusted to them. They are vigilant about documenting data about every member and regular attendees. Again…hats off to you.

“I would argue that Facility Stewardship is actually a key component of Financial Stewardship.”

BUT…I am shocked at the number of churches that do not have a proactive, effective and efficient way of managing the use and care of their facilities. Do we not believe that the care of our facilities is an important aspect of our stewardship initiatives? Do we not believe that we will be held accountable for how we steward all of the blessing God has entrusted to us? I would argue that Facility Stewardship is actually a key component of Financial Stewardship. That is why we believe so passionately that having the right tools and means/method to plan the use of our facilities as well as manage their care is critical to the short term and long term financial and physical health of a ministry. Facilities are intended to be used…which requires planning and coordination. I am thrilled when I see a church’s calendar jam-packed with ministry activities…but that requires planning and coordination. It also requires physical care and attention.

To add complexity to this, it is critical to understand that all facilities deteriorate…PERIOD… and we need to be vigilant with the care of them. If we do not, we will end up with facilities that do not properly reflect our mission, vision, culture or do not align with the physical requirements of our ministry initiatives.  They will become functionally and physically obsolete…and who does that serve? In far too many cases, the facilities become a deterrent to reaching others instead of a tool to enhance ministry.

So, if stewardship is important to your church, don’t neglect your Facility Stewardship.

It’s Not a Project…It’s a Process

For the past several weeks, our pastor has been preaching a series on “How We Change the Way We Change.” It has been a great series and I have been challenged by each of the sermons. One in particular I have listened to several times is entitled, “It’s Not a Project, It’s a Process.” The basis of the teaching is that our spiritual walk is not a project…not a one and done…not a check box on a list.  It is a process and a continuous journey that requires attention, discipline, effort and dedication.

One of the analogies Pastor used caused me to think about our ministry facilities and development initiatives…a wedding/marriage. Don’t write me off  yet…keep reading.

Mother’s and daughters love to plan weddings. They will engross themselves for months and months of planning, meeting with a whole host of professionals. They will meet with wedding planners, banquet hall establishments, gown designers, florists, caterers, musicians, a preacher, travel agent for the honeymoon, bakery for the cake, invitation printers, and so on. (As a side note, I have 2 daughters and as I write this, I think I have just became a fan of eloping). There are so many details that are required to pull off the perfect day, and for most dads, it will ultimately cost more than expected as there is always “scope creep”.

The weeks just prior to the wedding, the tension grows. Emotions are on edge and the final details appear to be in disarray. “I can’t wait until this is over”, is voiced by many people involved with the wedding. But everyone keeps pushing through as they know how much this day means to the bride and groom (or so we think).

Then the big day comes and all of the months of planning are culminated with no further planning required…it is here. Bells are ringing…rice is thrown…cake is cut (and shoved in each others mouth) and all is well in the universe.

So, is it over? Is the “project” done?  Can the bride and groom say, “Boom…that is done”? I think not. The PROCESS has just started. The wedding is only a milestone on the journey of a marriage. The wedding is not the marriage…it is only an element within the process. Now the real work begins. If a couple thinks that the wedding was the penultimate point of the marriage, they are doomed for failure. In order for a marriage to succeed, you have to work at it and on it every day.

So how does this apply to our ministry facilities? I am sure you already see the similarities.

A building or development initiative  can be exciting to plan and dream. “What if we could do X?”  “Think about how many people we will be able to reach.” “Wouldn’t this be a great color pallet?” This is the fun part. We love meeting with all the “professionals” involved in the project and getting their ideas and expertise.

“The process of operation, care and management is going to cost your church 70-80% of the total cost of owning this facility.”

But as the actually permitting, financing, final pricing and the actual construction draws nearer and nearer, reality starts to kick and and tensions and emotions start to escalate. People start second guessing decisions. The finance team stops sleeping at night (similar to the brides father!!!!). The pastor and executive team keep a happy and positive face on in public, but behind closed doors, tempers flare and emotions run rampant. But…we push on and get the development initiative kicked off with dirt, nails, bolts and carpet all taking their rightful place.

Then comes the dedication service….AHHHHH. “We have arrived”, is echoed by the the leadership team…as well as the contractor, architect and trade contractors as “project” fatigue has worn them out. Dignitaries are invited. Mailers sent out. E-blasts have blanketed cyberspace and every doorknob has been polished. We are moving in!!! What a great day of celebration…like the wedding.

BUT…in the same way a wedding does not a marriage make, the dedication service does not a ministry facility make. Dedication weekend is merely a milestone of the process of owning and using a ministry facility. The planning and construction part may have had some spiritual implication (such as the building team loosing their Christianity…LOL). The real opportunity to have an eternal impact starts at this point. The “tool” for ministry is just now being launched and commissioned to fulfill the plans, dreams and vision of the church to reach its community.

But too often, there is the long forgotten reality that over the life cycle of this facility, the process of operation, care and management is going to cost your church 70-80% of the total cost of owning this facility. The pre-planning and “wedding” is only going to cost you about 20% of the to cost of ownership…but the utilities, general maintenance, janitorial and capital reserves (i.e college planning, retirement savings…to draw it back to the wedding analogy) are the largest component of the facilities cost. Long after the “new car” smell is gone, you will still have to change light bulbs, clean carpets and restrooms.

So, when you are planning a facility development initiative, remember that it is not a “project”, but rather a long term process. Prepare for the long term and not just the immediate phase of the wedding.

Does the 80% Rule Still Apply?

I have been working with churches since the mid 1980’s (I know…I am old!!!). During that era, most of the churches I served bought pews for their worship space. That was the norm. The rule of thumb of 80% occupancy meant being full was very applicable. In a pew configuration, the code considers a “seat” to be every 18″ in width. LOL…not with most deacons I know! A better measurement would be 21″-22″. So we have some space that the fire marshal says are seats that really aren’t. But the other major factor with pews is the “spread out” space…you know, the place to lay my Bible, or a ladies purse or coat. Most people using pews take up far more than their fair share of butt space, so the 80% rule was serious business and a key indicator for most churches.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, more and more churches moved to flexible seating…usually in the form of a stackable chair. These proved to be a great way to utilize a facility by having the flexibility to add or remove seating or to totally take it down for other functions. Most of these seats were in the 20″-22″ range and even could interlock to give the illusion of a pew. Two primary benefits for a church was the sheer cost (typically lower than a pew) and the designated seat per butt. It allowed for a quantifiable 1:1 ratio of people to chairs. This should have made the 80% rule obsolete, but there was still the mindset that we needed the “spread out” space and so many people still consumed 2+ chairs to accommodate their personal property and desire for personal space. In addition, there was still a paradigm of allowing people to enter the worship space and sit where ever they liked. This meant that you would have spotty areas of seating with 1 chair here or two there or the entire front row empty. These two realities made the 80% rule still viable and necessary for worship space planning.

However…I think we are seeing a real trend that is impacting change of the 80% rule. There are two primary contributors to this shift:

  1. Theater Style Seats– This has been a growing trend over the past 7-10 years and I believe it will only continue. Theater seats allow you to have the 1:1 people to seat ratio, but most have an integral arm rest between seats so it is easier to obtain your personal space. In addition, the fold-down seat requires enough weight and force for it to fold that it is not as convenient for someone to try and use it to lay their Bible…as it will just fall to the ground, unless you have one of those large white leather coffee table Bibles.

There are several other benefits that theater seats offer such as:

  • Allowing more seats in a similar space as some cases 10-15% more seats. That give you more bang for your buck.
  • Parking requirements will be “right-sized” compared to the calculations required for flexible seating.
  • Same applies to your total restroom counts.
  • With the total number of occupants identified by the number of seats and not a square footage calculation, your HVAC system can also re right-sized…which can reduce costs both initially as well as related to life cycle.
  1. Crowd Control– Do you just let people sit wherever they like?  Does your worship space fill up from the back to the front and from the aisles to the middle? I have seen a very helpful trend being used by growing churches…what I will call “crowd control” or seat assigning or for those of you looking for a politically correct term –  concierge seating. There are several attributes to this methodology that I see can help with your worship seating:
  • Segment off the worship space from front to back. I have seen many churches using pipe-and-drape or just ropes to barricade the back section of the worship space until the front fills up and then then will open up the back section in increments to keep the room “full”  from front to back.  This helps to ensure that the rooms fills before more seats are made available and also provides less distraction when late-comers arrive as they can sit in the available seats in the rear.
  • Ushers direct traffic in the worship space. While this may sound controlling, what if your ushers helped people fill in every row from front to back and from aisle to aisle? Instead of letting people camp out on the end cap of a row, ask them to move all the way to the opposite end and then back-fill the row until it is 100% full. No saving seats. No spaces empty. While this may not feel natural, if you are space deprived…or feel like you are and yet still have more seats than people, this will help you maximize the occupancy.

It is my opinion that if you utilize the above two methods to manage your worship seating, you can exceed to the 80% rule to 85-90%…maybe more. You may ask why this is important me (and to you). Here is why…it goes back to stewardship…financial and facility stewardship.  If we can maximize the space God has already entrusted to us before we venture into a another building initiative, we are being better stewards of our current spaces as well as the money entrusted to us. I like the sound of that.

Utility bills, HVAC maintenance, and HVAC replacement are significant costs for most churches. HVAC usage can be attributed to 50-75% of your utility bills and HVAC maintenance and replace are your second or third largest capital expenditure not to mention the cost of staff to constantly change settings for events. If you are looking for a means by which to increase operational efficiency and control costs, then this resource is a MUST read.


Are Your Facilities Shaping You?

Have you ever heard the old adage about the 2 happiest days of boat ownership? “The day you buy it and the day you sell it.” If you are a boat owner…or owner of many other “toys”, this saying may best describe your ownership experience.

So what about our ministry tools? While most of us will never sell our church facilities, there are 2 very clear stages in the life cycle that evoke emotions similar to the boat analogy. They are Elation and Frustration…let’s explore:

Elation – The day we move in to utilize the new tool for the planned and envisioned purpose.  In most cases, there are months and years of planning that goes into the development of a ministry tool (i.e. facility for this conversation).

In most cases, the cycle generally looks like this – Church Growth > Crowded Conditions > Inability to Sustain Growth in Current Facility (Frustration) > Dreaming (of new space) > Planning (of new space) > Building (of the space…some might call this the Child Birth phase) > Elation (after move in and launching of the expanded ministries) > REPEAT

Conversely…there is the frustration component that initiated the above pattern…and will once again raise its predictable head and causes the cycle to begin again.

Frustration – This is the point in the cycle when it become painfully obvious that either the tool you have is not sized appropriately…or in many cases…is not designed to do ministry the way you want given your current context. If you go back to the cycle above, you can see about where that lands (I made it pretty obvious…just saying).

In 1943, Winston Churchill gave a speech to the House of Lords referring to the recent decimation of the House of Commons due to the war’s bombing raids. His most famous line in that address is:

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

No truer words have ever been spoken related to the built environment…and it is so apropos to our ministry facilities. We spend months and years envisioning, dreaming, planning and building our facilities. We are diligent (most of the time) of being intentional about the space needed to facilitate ministry the way we believe will have the greatest impact on our community and target. We spend tens of thousands of dollars shaping the spaces…ensuring every door and window is in the right place…planning the audio/visual and environmental graphics…selecting just the right colors for walls, flooring and furniture…etc, etc, etc.

How you address a life cycle of the utilization of your built environment allows you to once again “shape your buildings” in lieu of them shaping you.

But at some point in the growth and cultural context of your church and community, that tool starts to shape how you do ministry. You start having to develop “work-arounds” to try to conform your ministry initiatives to the space you have access to.

Here are some real world example of what I mean:

  1. 25+ years ago, the “foyer” of most churches was merely a place to funnel people from the outside into the worship space…maybe to also get a bulletin. In that context, you only needed 1-2 square feet per person for a foyer. However, in most churches today, people are seeking the opportunity to do life with other believes and to gather and hangout. Cafes, lounge areas, soft seating, kiosks and the like need to be housed in these lobbies.  They are no longer just a “cattle shoot” to egress people.  In most cases, significant interaction and ministry is done, and as such, most churches need 5-7 square feet per person for this common space…sometimes even more.
  2. Many years ago, the Southern Baptist had a division called The Sunday School Board that provided direction and guidelines for best practices for doing education on Sunday. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the common suggested space utilization for education was a medium sized central room with a series of very small rooms off that space.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been called on to consult a church that is in one of these buildings and experiencing the Frustration milestone as they tell me they do not have enough space.  Upon further examination, we find that they actually have lots of space, it is just poorly configured…thus shaping how they do ministry.
  3. Technology has become an incredible tool for providing better utilization of space.  For example, if you need more worship space, but also have some spaces on the campus that are “dark” (i.e. not used simultaneous to your worship times), then consider video venues or other ways to best utilize the space God has entrusted to you before you venture into a costly expansion program to add more seats in a worship center that may sit dark 6 days a week.

The above life cycle of the utilization of your built environment is inevitable. How you address it allows you to once again “shape your buildings” in lieu of them shaping you. In addition…how you plan today must be done in the context of what might happen down the road.  Plan wisely…plan for flexibility and change. Be Intentional!