“It Takes a Village” to Manage a Church Facility

Over the past 10+ years, I have meet with hundreds (maybe thousands) of church leaders possessing “titles” such as Business Administrator, Operations Pastor/Director, XP (Executive Pastor), Facility Manager, Office Manager…and many others…including Pastor. The size of their congregations have varied from less than 50 people to over 20,000 people on a weekend in multiple sites.  Some have a bent toward traditional music while others were, what I lovingly refer to as, “full contact worship.” Some were urban…some rural. Some had an aging demographic while others were predominately millennial. Some liturgical…others Pentecostal. So on and so forth.

But do you know what 99% (my guess…not based on scientific research) had in common? They meet in a facility and the majority of them had some level of responsibility for the care of that facility. “A facility” was the one common denominator. I take that back…the one REAL common denominator was  feeling overwhelmed with what it took to care for, maintain, manage and plan for the future of the facility as well as the realization that they didn’t know what the did not know.

This really concerns me!

There are numerous organizations available to provide guidance, coaching and support for pastors. There is an organization structured to provide help to over 6,000 Church Administrators (of which I am a member). I am aware of about a dozen groups to support XP’s in their roles…and yet…there is NOT ONE designated to help and support any and every church leader that has a facility. Oh yeah…as a reminder, there are almost 350,000 churches in America that have a facility…with no organization focused to provide collective support. REALLY?!?!

There is one organization that focuses on “Facility Managers,” and that is helpful…but what about the thousands…tens of thousands of churches that do not have a facility manager? Those where the pastor is the facility manager, or the deacon board leads that charge, or the trustees get together to fix things, or where the pastor’s kids come in on Saturday to clean the building (I have first hand experience with that!). What further exacerbates this is the number of churches that “think” they have a facility manager, when in actuality they have a maintenance person.  That is not a disparagement…just fact.

That is why we will soon be releasing CHURCH FACILITY MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS.

This will provide the support, interaction, resources, camaraderie, information, feedback, coaching, and tools…for EVERY CHURCH of ANY SIZE.

This new offering will provide the support, interaction, resources, camaraderie, information, feedback, coaching, and tools for EVERY CHURCH of ANY SIZE.

This invaluable tool and resource is scheduled to roll out early 2018…but…if you want to get on the early bird list, click HERE.  There is no obligation…just letting us know you have interest.

Some of the features of Church Facility Management Solutions will include:

  1. Weekly Information sent directly to you to help you be proactive and intentional with the care of your facility
  2. Online Community so that you can get input and feedback from hundreds of other church and facility leaders
  3. Monthly Webinars by industry professionals to provide relevant information and resources for your church facility management
  4. Vetted Vendors will put a list of qualified vendors at your fingertips with the assurance that they have been pre-qualified by our team…and they do not pay to be on this list
  5. Free Resources will be developed and made available to members including worksheet, forms, policy docs, job descriptions, etc. This alone will be worth the cost of membership
  6. Availability to Consulting and Training Services

This is going to be so COOL! Join us to be the best steward of the facilities God has entrusted to you.

 

Story, Duct Tape, and Facility Condition

I love duct tape as much as the next guy.  In fact, I believe that I can repair just about anything in our house with duct tape. When I was in my early years of college I took a 2-year sabbatical to travel with a musical group out of Nashville called “Bridge”. We did over 350 concerts a year, traveling from town to town and church to church. Every night we did a concert in a new location and so we set up and tore down our sound system each night. We had wires going everywhere. In order to “dress up” the stage and to make it safe to navigate the performance area, we used duct tape to secure the wires.  We would buy a case of it at a time, burning through a case every few weeks. I even had to repair a pair of pants, due to an attire malfunction, with duct tape until we could locate a seamstress.

It is the dream product for repairing and securing just about anything. However, after our concerts each night, we pulled up the duct tape and threw it away. It did not stay as a permanent part of the décor of the church we were at. It was installed and removed the same day…because it was never intended to be a permanent fixture in the facility. Interestingly enough, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I visit a church that has elected to use duct tape as a permanent component of their interior design scheme. The congregation steps over the duct tape week in and week out totally oblivious to the grey stripe on the worn-out carpet.

The longer you live in a space, the less you see the obvious. For your regular attenders, they become immune to the condition of the facility. It is kind of like putting a frog in a pot of cool water then turning up the temp to bring it to a boil. We stop seeing the trees for the forest. We walk past the grass growing in the cracks of the parking lot. We step over the torn carpet. We know exactly how to avoid the potholes in the parking lot. We no longer notice the stained ceiling and overlook the odor and condition of our public restroom. But I assure you, your guests do not. These inconsistencies in the story can be just as distracting and repulsive as poor design and the lack of signage and poor interactions.

In recent years our team attended 2 conferences at large influential churches. The first was a church in Southern California with a campus that is the best keep facility I have ever visited. It has 5-6 buildings uniquely located on a 50-acre site with an attention to detail second to none. When you first pull on the property, you are greeted by signage at nearly every intersection of the parking lot to guide you to your destination. The grounds were immaculately manicured and all the hedges trimmed and neat. The buildings were clean and organized, lacking disruptive clutter in the common areas. The restrooms were neat, clean and odor free. Not opulent, but comfortable. The windows and glass was clean and I did not see any duct tape on the floors. I had to look really had to find a handful of things to complain about…and trust me, I was looking. But even the handful of items I found were not deal killers…just me being meticulous.

“Will the condition of our facilities leaving a lasting negative impression on new believers and our guests?”

 

The other conference was in central Florida at a very large church. This is a church with an impactful TV ministry in central Florida and dynamic pastor. The conference had over 5,000 people in attendance, so this was no small campus. But I was very disappointed with the condition of the facility. The signage once on the campus was lacking and a significant amount of the parking was gravel. As I approached the buildings, after parking in the gravel lot, I was immediately taken back by the lack of care of the grounds. The yards were in desperate need of care and the trees and shrubs needed a good trim. The buildings felt old and tired, lacking any visual appeal. Then as I ventured deeper into the campus, the pathways lead me to the sea of modular classrooms…all looking like a bad public school. In fact, the speaker’s lounge was in one of these spaces, which gave the impression that “OK” was good enough for them. There was no sense of excellence or intentionality to the space. Touring the actual worship center revealed aged and worn pews, carpet that was wrinkled in lieu of laying flat and restrooms that really could have used some TLC.

Now, I am sure there maybe good reasons for this lack of care and as a believer and potentially a highly sensitive observer of spaces, I can still worship and enjoy my time with other believers. But what about our guests, especially those who are not believers. Will they be as forgiving? Will the condition of our facilities leaving a lasting negative impression on them? Will these roadblocks keep them from coming back or sharing their experience with others that may not darken the doors of your church because of  what they hear about your facility?

It would be a shame to have been intentional about the design of your facility, parking ministry, themed spaces and script writing, to then be neglectful with the care and condition of the facility. Don’t let the care and upkeep become the forgotten chapter of your story.


Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

The Four Letter Word That Is “OK” In Church

So, I am not an advocate of foul language, but there is a four-letter word that many consider “bad” that was never meant to be…OSHA. When you look at the push for improving workplace safety, OSHA came from a desire to see less people killed or horrifically injured on the job…seems legit right? I, for one, am thankful for New Jersey Senator Harrison A. Williams Jr. and Representative William A. Steiger, the key drivers behind The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, also known as the Williams-Steiger Act. Like any piece of legislation, it has morphed over the years in some unfortunate ways; however the fact remains that keeping people safe at work is a good thing.

So as a house of worship, does it apply? –  YES.

Here is chapter and verse of the sections that apply to churches and houses of worship:

1975.4(c) Coverage of churches and special policy as to certain church activities

1975.4(c)(1) Churches. Churches or religious organizations, like charitable and non-profit organizations, are considered employers under the Act where they employ one or more persons in secular activities.

1975.4(c)(2) Examples. Some examples of coverage of religious organizations as employers would be: A private hospital owned or operated by a religious organization; a private school or orphanage owned or operated by a religious organization; commercial establishments of religious organizations engaged in producing or selling products such as alcoholic beverages, bakery goods, religious goods, etc.; and administrative, executive, and other office personnel employed by religious organizations.

There is an exception during the performance of religious services, but it is a very specific exception. It is in the latter part of 1975.4(c)(1).

So, what does that mean for you?

First, it means there are some very specific OSHA regulations you should be addressing. Stay tuned for more posts about those.

Secondly, do you value your personal safety and the safe work environments of those around you? Great! Then develop, grow, and encourage a culture of safety in your building. It is not that hard…but it must be intentional. You see that word used a great deal at Cool Solutions Group; what we do is done on purpose and deliberate. Safety is no accident. My second child just recently got her license. She didn’t just walk into the DMV and say, “Hey guys, I want to drive, how about a license?”  She went through months of the class work and practical driving experience with us. We were intentional about going over the why and the how. She accepted that if she was going to earn her license, operating a vehicle safely was always required. It is part of the driving culture we created.

The same method is how you create that culture in your organization. You focus on your mission and what you are called to achieve; you also have to recognize that keeping everyone involved safe is a critical part of your mission.

“Keeping everyone involved safe is a critical part of your mission.”

The funny thing about safety…you really cannot force it upon individuals. If establishing rules was all it took to make people responsible, we would have fewer lawyers and insurance agents. Show your team how integral they are to your mission and in turn, you will have a team that sees the value in safely executing the role they have been called to…natural personal safety advocates.

We exist at Cool Solutions Group to help churches tell their story, and ultimately the greatest truth ever shared is the Gospel. If there is a way that we can connect with you to help with developing safety within your culture and mission, contact us. We are here to support you and your mission.


We have developed a FREE Church Facility Evaluator. This simple tool will provide you with a snapshot of some key indicators associated with facility operational costs.

Church Facility Evaluator

 

Your Church Facilities Should Suck

Have you ever driven by a park, mall, restaurant or other building that caught your attention and sparked your interest to the point that you just had to pull in and check it out?  Maybe it was the design of the building?  Maybe it was the look and feel of the campus/grounds.  Maybe it was the crowds of people in the parking lots or those mingling throughout the campus or maybe it was some other attribute that was so compelling that just sucked you in.  There was this innate and unspoken draw that was irresistible.  You may have fought the suction the first or second time you passed by…but eventually, the gravitational pull and indescribable suction pulled you in like being sucked in by a massive vacuum.  I know I have.

The design of a facility and campus are far more critical in telling your story than most people realize.  Road appeal matters.  Aesthetics matter. I am not saying that your facility needs to be opulent or look like the Crystal Cathedral (sad what has happened there), but it is going to make a “statement” and tell a story to those in your community. It can also be the catalyst to suck people in or repel them.

I once attended the Exponential Conference and loved being with thousands of church planters and leaders with a passion to expand the reach of the gospel. But let me give you a common mistake I see many, not all, church planters and new churches make far too often.

Church Planters will do their due diligence and locate their church in an area of the community that fits their “target market”.  They understand the community and the people they plan to reach.  Momentum builds…which leads to growth…which leads to crowded conditions in their rented facility…which leads to buying land…followed by the planning and building of a facility.  As with most new churches, money is tight and yet space is needed for ministry. So they find themselves in the conundrum of space vs. dollars.  They have bought land in an area of $250-$500,000 homes…right in the heart of their target. That is GREAT! But because of their need for “cheap” space, they throw up an austere structure…most likely a plain looking metal building. They cut corners on the street scape, landscaping and entrance signage, or worse, they put some something incongruent with who they are and the community they are trying to reach.

What story have they just told their community?  Will people whom spent $400K plus on their house…who are not yet believers, want to come to the little metal building around the corner? To a “passer-by”, what are you communicating with your building and campus? Is it appealing?  Does it draw (suck) them in? Does it spark a positive emotional reaction? Does it say “WELCOME…come check us out” without posting a billboard or sign? Does the community see you as an asset or a detriment?

Now, I totally understand the need to have space to fulfill the vision, mission and ministry of the church.  I get the reality that there is a limited budget.  These are real issues. What I am suggesting is that we be intentional with our campus and facility design…and intentional does not necessarily mean more expensive…but it does take effort, planning, vision, and vigilance.

We will keep unpacking these factors in the weeks to come.  But in the meantime, drive around your community with a set of fresh-eyes…and notice the way some of the facilities and campuses (not necessarily churches) look and see what kind of story they communicate to you. When we are aware that design matters, we start to see things that will cause us to pause and either be sucked in, or merely say, “Huh.”

Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

What "Story” Does Your Church Facility Tell? – Intentional

What does it mean to be intentional? When I use this word in conversation, I think of it in these terms:

  • On Purpose
  • Premeditated
  • Done with a specific result expected
  • Attention to details

These are words and phrases that are totally opposite to concepts such as:

  • Do it on the fly
  • Let’s see what happens
  • Make it up as we go
  • Hope for the best

Most successful ministry leaders adhere to the first list rather than the latter when planning sermon series, accounting methods, ministry initiatives, music sets and transitions between songs, website design, blogs and the like.  They plan.  They have an eye on the net result of their plans and goals.  They do not leave things to “chance”. And they, or someone on their team, is paying close attention to every detail.

I have used the example of Disney before and how they are all about the guest experience.  Do you think they care about the details or the “story” they want their guest to tell their friends and family after their experience? Do you think they leave that experience up to chance?  HECK NO!  Let me give you some examples:

Trash Cans – Did you know that Disney studied and learned that the maximum amount of steps a person will walk to get to a trash can is 30 paces. In order to promote  the cleanliness of the park, trash cans are placed no farther than 27 paces away from each other.  Wow…that will keep things clean. And not only that…they are not just trash cans…they are a prop and part of the story.

On-Stage/Back Stage – Disney makes a clear distinction between what people see and what people don’t see. This goes back to Walt Disney’s desire for Disneyland to be a “show.” Whenever “cast members” walk on-stage, the show is on. This distinction continues into how cast members dress and even the conversations they have with other cast members. This is part of their culture.

Street-scape – Disney knows that most of its guests entering the park are excited to see Sleeping Beauty’s castle…which happens to be at the end of Main Street.  To enhance this visual, the buildings along Main Street get shorter and the awnings extend out further along down the sidewalk. This makes the castle appear farther away and larger than life. This draws you toward the castle  and starts that transformation process (more on this in future weeks).

Sight, Sounds, Smell and Texture – When you get near the end of Main Street you are presented with a myriad of options as to where to venture next.  With each of these options, whether it is Tomorrow LandAdventure Land or Frontier Land, you will be drawn in and transformed incorporating all of your senses…and then some. Disney is very intentional with the imagery that greets you at the entrance of each “land”…and that theme draws you in and stays consistent. They also use music, sounds, and other audible effects to make your experience congruent with what your eyes see.  It then draws you deeper into this transformation by appealing to your sense of smell and “texture”.  Next time you are there and start to explore the various lands, look down and make note of what you are walking on…and so the intentionality continues.  Amazing!!!

What I have seen and learned by observing this is that many, if not most, of these impactful impressions are not that much more expensive, if at all, than their “basic” counterparts.  And in areas where additional investment is made, it is counterbalanced by a reduction in investment in others.

So…the bottom line is that “intentionality” does not have to equate to it being more expensive….it just means you have to be intentional. Purposeful. Thoughtful. Deliberate. Focused on the outcome.

As you consider your church and ministry facility, have you been intentional with its design, story and sensory elements…or have you left it to chance?

Check out our book, Why Church Buildings Matter. Church facilities will not save a person from a life of sin and frustration. But the lack of attention to the church campus can indeed be the road block to reaching those people that need to hear the gospel message the most. Don’t minimize their impact. This book will reveal how to maximize your church facility to share the greatest story ever told, the gospel.

Church Facility Projects – You've Moved In…But You're Still Not Done

You’ve moved into the new facility and are enjoying the “new car smell” and excitement that comes with seeing the vision become reality.  As you celebrate this momentous occasion, there’s still work to be done to keep this new building running at peak performance.

Capital Reserves

Start setting aside money in a Capital Reserves Account.  Ideally, this is a separate bank account used only for facility maintenance and repair expenses.  At the very least, it can be a separate line item in the general ledger.  Don’t forget to include reserves for IT and AVL (audio, visual, lighting) equipment.  How much should you set aside?  For a new (or fairly new) construction, save $1.00-$3.00 per square foot each year.

Maintenance-Related Expenses

Add or update the maintenance-related expenses in your church’s annual budget.  Expect to spend roughly $2.00-$2.50 per square foot annually on general maintenance.  You’ll also need to budget for additional facilities staff to handle those general maintenance tasks.  Plan for one FTE (full-time equivalent) for every 25,000 – 35,000 square feet.

Utilities

Update the budget to account for the change in utility costs at your new facility.  A good place to start is $1.00-$1.50 per square foot each year.

Janitorial Services

Whether you handle this in-house or outsource janitorial work, you’ll need to budget approximately $1.75 – $2.50 per square foot each year.

Handling these behind-the-scenes tasks will help keep your new facility running smoothly and efficiently for years to come.

Intentional organizations plan today for tomorrow’s costs. That’s why it’s critical you establish a capital reserve account now. Download our FREE eBook to learn more.

Church Facility Projects – Before You Move In

The facility is almost ready and it’s easy to see what the final product will look like.  As you make plans to move in and use the new building, there are several items left to manage.

1. Request the “as-built” drawings from the builder.  These are different from the initial plans the architect provided as they show exactly where the construction crew placed ducts, plumbing, electrical wiring, and more (in other words, all the supporting elements hidden behind the drywall). You’ll want these drawings in the future when you need to track down where a water leak is coming from, what electrical wires to reroute for a remodel, etc.

2. Think through what service providers you’ll use for ongoing maintenance and repair work. Who will maintain the HVAC systems? Who will handle janitorial work? Who is your preferred plumber? Which vendor will you purchase your paper products from? Create this list and keep the contact information of each vendor in a central location.

3. Interview vendors and get new or updated preventative maintenance contracts (and other contracts for cleaning services, paper products, etc.).  Preventative maintenance helps you avoid a catastrophic breakdown of any key system.  What would happen if your air conditioning stopped working during a Texas summer and you can’t get it replaced for a week?  That’s not an ideal scenario for Sunday services. Preventative maintenance contracts could include maintenance for roofing, elevators, HVAC units, commercial kitchens, fire extinguishers, and more.

4. Once you’ve selected the vendors you want to use and have contracts with them, enter that information into the system you plan to use to manage ongoing maintenance (such as eSPACE’s Work Order Management application).  The General Contractor should provide you with a list of all equipment (an owner’s manual of sorts).  You’ll need to enter that list into your maintenance system as well.

5. Other factors to consider before move-in:

  • How are we going to key the building?
  • Who will have access to those keys?
  • What security plan do we have in-place?
  • What’s our facility use policy for the new facility?
  • Do we have certain rules?
  • Will we charge for certain types of facility usage? If so, what’s the rate and criteria for usage?  You’ll need to document this information and communicate it to the church staff.
  • Inventory – Consider taking and maintaining an inventory of certain supplies.  This list may include light bulbs, paper products, HVAC filters, cleaning supplies, and others.
  • Outsource vs. handle in-house – Will we outsource janitorial or other facilities maintenance work?

6. Re-review your operational budget for the new facility and start to make “payments” for these costs (to yourself) to start to get accustomed this new spending reality.

7. From a funding perspective:

  • Keep the vision of the project alive and celebrate it.  Keep it at the forefront in the hearts and minds of your congregation.  This helps them stay enthusiastic about the project and provides a gentle reminder to keep their financial pledge.
  • Take any milestone moment that’s connected to the vision and celebrate that moment with the church.  Share why the project is mission critical to achieving that vision.

Intentional organizations plan today for tomorrow’s costs. That’s why it’s critical you establish a capital reserve account now. Download our FREE eBook to learn more.

Church Facility Projects – What To Do During Construction

Once you’ve finalized the construction plans, secured a loan, and kicked-off a successful capital campaign, it’s finally time to start construction.  While you’ve probably hired a construction company to handle the actual building work, this isn’t a time for your team to take a backseat.  You need someone to be the central point of contact for the general contractor, architect, builder, project manager, AVL team, and capital campaign consultant.  This might be your Executive Pastor, Facilities Manager, another individual from your church, or an external “owner’s rep”/Project Manager.

You’ll want to visit the construction site often to assess progress and take pictures during construction. Nathan Parr, Operations Manager for First Baptist Church in Belton, Texas recommends going out at least once a week to take pictures once the construction crew is past the initial foundation grading work.  Take pictures of all critical systems and label each picture before they install sheet rock and flooring.  Keep in mind that hard ceilings will cover where drains and traps are located for other plumbing, so you’ll want to take pictures of that as well.

Nathan also advises you create a binder of all submittals including brands and model numbers of what’s installed.  Document the paint formula used for each room (not just the brand and type).  Include all this information in a “Building Standards” binder.  This will save your facilities team time and money for years to come.

Carl Jackson with 7 Hills Church recommends you take detailed notes and track conversations you have with the construction team, architect, and others.  Follow-up with people on commitments they made or questions they promised to answer for you.  Take the initiative to make sure you get the information you need throughout the project.

From a capital campaign perspective, Brad Leeper recommends you keep the project in front of people.  The best way to do that is to drip the vision out constantly.  You might mention after a baptism service that in the new facility you’ll have more space for discipleship classes and classes for those who’re considering faith.

The construction phase can be exciting, frustrating, and overwhelming.  Staying organized throughout this phase is important for the sanity of your team and for a successful project.

If It's Phase-able, It's Feasible

We have just wrapped up a 2 part series on the 5 Consequences of Too Much Building As part of that series, we scratched the surface of the issue of building too big from the get-go. We noted that this is generally done when proper planning is not performed or when the “build it and they will come” mentality replaces reasonable thinking.

When I talk about “proper planning”, I am referring to the fact that every church that plans to build a new facility has a budget; and as such, there is only so much they can afford as part of the next project. (PS:  If you have an unlimited budget, please call me immediately as I have 3 kids in college!) What I have seen far too often is the project team plans and designs a facility to meets the churches desires, wishes and “perceived” needs; it is a grand plan and every component is thought through.  The plan has the right amount of seating, incredible kids spaces, “Google-ish” office space, and world class commons.

What could go wrong?

It costs HOW MUCH?!?!?! – Yep, that is what can go wrong.

This is not the end of the world and it does not have derail the process…unless, there is no way to phase the project.  As stated above, I am yet to find that one church on planet Earth that has an unlimited budget. As such, 99.9% of all projects have to be done in phases…sometimes many phases.

Welcome to reality.

I was recently with a friend of mine, Bob Bergman, when he made a statement that completely embodied the methodology of planning, design and construction I have been preaching for 31 years – “If it is Phase-able, it is Feasible.”

BOOM. BINGO. EXACTLY. THAT WILL PREACH!

Let me explain.  This may seem intuitive and simple, but I have seen millions of dollars of design and building plans sitting in the corner of a pastor’s study with an inch of dust on them…for a project that was well intended, but not feasible.

As I describe in my book PLAN 4 IT, churches need to establish a Financial Master Plan before they start on the Facility Plan. By doing so, you will know your financial capability.  If you, as the project team, start to develop the programming based on the church’s desires and needs, you will need a comparable benchmark (financial feasibility).  If the budget capacity falls short of the programming needs, then you will be in a phasing scenario.  As such, you need to prioritize the programming needs into financially feasible phases, then design with those phases acutely in the forefront of the teams mind.

Now…I fully believe that God can intervene and provide more funds than any of us can perceive.  That is GREAT, but don’t plan the project with that as the basis for the project size and scope.  Instead, plan your PHASING to take that into consideration.  There is no law that says you can not build Phase 1 and Phase 2 at the same time if the funds are available. There is, however, a spiritual, physical and financial law that says you cannot build Phase 2 if you only have funds for Phase 1. Pretty simple…but hard to implement without proper planning and diligence.

Plan wisely…and phase-able.

For assistance on Life Cycle Planning, download your free copy of the eBook, Capital Reserve Planning.

5 Consequences of Too Much Building – Part 2

In our last post, we started to explore the 5 Consequences of Too Much Building.  We spent all of our time with the first consequence:

#1: – The Money Pit

  1. Higher Utility Costs
  2. Deferred Maintenance
  3. Deferred Maintenance SQUARED

This week we want to look at the other 4 issues:

#2 – The Debt Trap – This is the consequence that burdens churches when they build too big, usually maxing out their borrowing capacity (which generally is not prudent). In these cases, the church is then strapped with mortgage payments that can strangle the funds needed for ministry and/or it can elongate the debt term, as a church may opt for a 20-30 year amortization in an attempt to reduce the monthly payment.  While I must admit that I have encouraged churches to do this, it has only been when a church is in a significant upward swing related to attendance AND giving.  Otherwise, this is a slippery slope.

#3 – Guest Perception – Have you ever gone to a function, event, or public place expecting to see lots of people only to be under-whelmed by the lack of attendance?  This is not just true in a church that is too big for the attendance, but any public setting.  I remember going to a Charlotte Hornets game when the team was doing poorly (it was the only time I could afford tickets).  The arena had no energy and it felt like I was at a funeral wake instead of a vibrant event. Guests are going to judge a portion of their experience by how the worship space “feels” to them.  Does it feel crowded or empty?  If empty, will they wonder if the church is dying? These perceptions will play a significant role in their decision to attend again.

#4 – “Wrong Sizing” – In keeping with the above, not only are guest perceptions impacted, but the overall feel of the room can have an emotional and functional impact on even your regular attenders experience.  Have you ever been to a church service that was sparsely attended and people are spread out all over the room – one over here…2 over there…a couple more in the back right corner? Then comes the time for offering; the ushers have to go down half this row to get to the first person sitting in the 7th seat who, in turn, has to stand up and walk the plate to the next person 5 seats away. If your pastor is one that says, “Tell your neighbor XXX“, but you have no neighbor; in fact, no one has a neighbor…that is awkward.

#5- Worship Impact – Worship is a personal act but when in a worship “service” it is intended to be a group activity. However, when you have too much building in your worship space, congregational worship suffers.  If you can not hear those singing around you, you are less likely to sing out.  If there is no energy in the room, you will be less likely to express yourself.

SUGGESTIONS:

For #2 above…be smart…don’t over extend…have a plan to pay off debt sooner than later.  I know, it sounds simple.  But too many churches fail to get this right.

As for the other 3 items, there are several things that could be done:

  1. “Right size” the room – this could be done with permanent walls or partitions or pipe and drape.  Getting the room to feel full will add to the guest and member experience and it will add energy. If you do it with fixed walls, you might actually save money in utility costs.
  2. Shrink Seating – If you are not inclined to “right size” the room, then consider shrinking the seating. This can be done by increasing the size of the platform as well as removing seats from the space.
  3. Rope it off – If neither of the above are acceptable solutions, then consider at least “roping-off” the back rows and closing off the balcony.  This is a hint to strongly encourage people to move closer.
  4. Use another room – If your attendance has reached a point that none of the above would help, then consider moving your service to another part of your facility. Do you have a space that is large enough to house the current attendance that you could occupy?  Again, this not only makes the space and services feel better, it can save on utilities and other operational expenses.

None of these consequences are pleasant to deal with, but deal with them you must.  Do not stick your head in the sand and pretend that these issues do not exist.  Facing reality is the first step to developing a solution and moving forward.

For assistance on Life Cycle Planning, download your free copy of the eBook, Capital Reserve Planning.