To Build, Buy, Lease or Rent…that IS the question

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To be or not to be…is no longer the question. For many churches, the burning question is what to do with facilities and do we even need to own a facility. This used to be a question that only church planters were asking.  When you are first starting out, the common question is how do we “house” our church?

Do we rent a school?

Do we rent a theater?

Do we find a store front?

What about using another church on an off night?

Given a number of factors, these conversations are no longer limited to church planters but are being asked in a whole host of church setting including established churches looking to get out from under a deteriorating facility that they cannot afford to churches needing to re-invent themselves. I have been involved in the planning, development and maintaining of church facilities and until recently, this topic was almost never discussed by churches that were more than 1-2 years old.

You may be saying…”Duh, Tim…we knew that.” Or this may be foreign territory for you…so let’s take a little time to explore as well as provide a very practical tool for your own evaluation.

To get started, let’s look at some trends and realities:

  1. For most churches, the cost of owning a facility is the second or third largest expenditure in their budget…usually second to personnel but ahead of dollars actually spent on ministry.
  2. In most regions of the country, as of the writing of this post, they are seeing significant increases in construction costs.
  3. In many cities and towns, there are still a large amount of empty buildings that were vacated as part of the aftermath of the Great Recession.
  4. The life cycle cost of owning a building during a typical 40 year period of time will be about 80% of the total cost of ownership…it takes a great deal to own a building.
  5. In addition, if you own a building, then you…your church…has been tasked to be a steward of the facility entrusted to you by God.  That is no small responsibility.  In fact, in order to keep up with the natural rate of physical deterioration and be prepared for the inevitable life cycle costs, you need to set aside $1-3.00/Square Foot EVERY YEAR.  Do if you have a 50,000 SF, you need to set aside $50 – $150,000 annually.
  6. Things change…if you do not believe this, please stop reading here. Here are some examples:
    • Your church goes through a period of expansive growth or decline…how does your facility flex with those trends?
    • Culture around us changes…do our facilities also morph?
    • Demographics change…not just race and language, but also age and needs associated with those changes.
    • Ministry means and methods change.  Are any of you doing “church”exactly like you did 20 years ago? I am a firm believe that the Gospel NEVER changes…but our means and methods must change.  How many of your churches use Gregorian Chant?  That was mainstream at one time.  Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” If you have a building that is more than 20 years old (maybe even less), that space may actually be telling you how to do ministry.
  7. There is an alarming number of aging church facilities across the country that have declining congregations and deteriorating facilities. Church mergers are on an increase…which I think is really smart.  But what about the old buildings? Is an old building right for your congregation? Consider THIS first.
  8. Church building are hard to sell. As a rule, if your church is not in a commercial setting or prime for re-development, it will likely take 2-3 years to sell and you are most likely going to only net about 50 cents on the dollar of the appraised value.

How do we address these issues?  How do we set up our congregation for long term impact and engagement?

I am not going to advocate one option over another…but what I do want us to do is to consider the options.  The first and only option should not be to buy land and build a building.  The other deeply ingrained paradigm has been that once you own a building, that is it…that is where your church meets.

End of story.

Again, I am not saying that is wrong…but we need to stretch our thinking. Ask WHAT IF…?

We have developed a tool to assist churches vet out some of these options.  This is not the end-all and 100% inclusive evaluation tool, but it is a tremendous resource to do some initial side-by-side comparison of the options.

If you click HERE you can download this tool.  Now, let me walk you through how to best utilizing the tool and some of the methods to our madness:

First, we make the premise that there are 4 basic options (with a multitude of subsets):

  • Rent a school
  • Lease a commercial/retail building
  • Buy a building
  • Build a building

We then break costs down into 3 sections:

  • Operational Costs
  • Sticks and Bricks
  • FFE/AVL (Furniture, fixtures, equipment and audio, video, lighting)
  • Lease Agreement Considerations

There are some formulas built in to the spreadsheet such as:

  1. Cost of TI (Tenant Improvement) for the purchase of a building – we used $100/SF
  2. Cost of new construction – we used $200/SF
  3. Operational costs
  4. Capital reserve costs

Everything else needs to be added based on information gathered in your local context.

Again, this is not the only evaluation tool you should use.  The old adage in real estate is “Location, Location, Location.” That also needs to be factored into your comparison matrix.  Is the location in the right part of the community?  Will there be visibility and signage opportunities?  Is it properly zoned? Is there ample parking, etc.

To round out this, you also need to give serious attention to any leased (not rented…there is difference…renting is usually short term and leasing is long term) facilities or purchased facilities. you need to consider:

  1. If purchasing, is there deferred maintenance you are also inheriting? Learn more HERE.
  2. If you plan on more than 300 seats in worship, does the facility have a fire sprinkler system?
  3. Is the power adequate to support your AVL systems?
  4. How old is the HVAC system and is it adequate to cool an assembly occupancy?
  5. What is the condition of the roof?
  6. Are there enough restrooms?

OK…that probably has your head spinning….which is good.  You MUST consider all of the above before you make a serious financial decision.  Do not take this lightly.  Do your due diligence. Consider all the options.  Seek wise counsel.  Pray continuously.

ONWARD!


Cool Solutions Group helps churches with the planning, development, and management of their facilities!

Retirement Planning…for your Facility

 

Unless the Lord decides to call you home premature, we all will be faced with some variation of “retirement.” That means plans need to be considered for that period in our lives when we are not producing income based on a full time 40-hour +/- work week.  For most, that takes the form of:

  • 401K or 403b
  • IRA’s
  • Annuities
  • Life Insurance
  • Investments
  • Pensions

For others, it may simply be hoping that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be adequate.  I think we would all agree that is not very wise.

We will project what we believe our costs will be in retirement…then plan a strategy to utilize one or more of the above to ensure we have the basis from which to generate the level of income to sustain the desired lifestyle.

This all sounds prudent as we plan for the INEVITABLE stage of life.  Would you agree?

So what are we doing to prepare for the “retirement”of our ministry facilities? I guess the first question is…do you think it is necessary?  If you don’t, then why would you plan for your personal retirement?

Sorry for being snarky…could not help myself.

Even at the very worst of personal financial planning, their is a partial safety net (although tenuous) is Social Security and other entitlements (did you realize that Entitled and Entitlements are not mentioned in the Bible…just saying). Considering our facility retirement concerns, we do not even have a social security safety net.

You may be saying – “We do not plan to retire our facility.” Oh Grasshopper…that is flawed thinking.

You may not “retire” the entire facility…but you WILL retire nearly every component of the facility.

  • You will retire all roofs…and replace them…and retire them again.
  • You will retire all HVAC equipment…and replace them…and retire them again.
  • You will retire all paving…and replace them…and retire them again.
  • You will retire all floor coverings…and replace them…and retire them again.
  • You will retire all lighting, plumbing, windows, doors, etc, etc, etc.

Need I go on?

These facility retires…just like our personal retirement…are INEVITABLE. There is no getting around it.  There no magic bullet.  There is no “Facility Fairy” to wave a wand.

Given the above…what are your plans?  Do you have a plan?  If not, how do you start? What is your baseline? How much is enough?

These are great questions that can and must all be answered…and starting with your current reality is the best place to get going.  In light of that, we strongly recommend a Facility Condition Assessment. Such an assessment will provide you:

  • Fresh Eyes Assessment
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Benchmark of Budgets/Staff
  • Deferred Maintenance
  • Facility Management Best Practices
  • Preventive Maintenance
  • Energy/Operational Evaluation
  • Capital Reserve Planning

Make your facilities “retirement” a positive experience by being intentional Facility Stewards.

-Tim


We Focus On Your Facility…

…so you can focus on your mission.

That is more than just a tagline for our team.  This WHO we are.  It is WHY we do what we do. That is HOW we do what we do.

I am yet to find a pastor that went to seminary with the primary reason of focusing their energies, time and ministry on a building. I know a few Business Administrators and Executive Pastor’s that have previous experience in the world of the built environment…but that is not WHY they got into vocational ministry.

And yet…how many churches in America could continue to function without a facility? I dare say that every church…the body of believers…in North America relies on a facility in some form or fashion.  This reliance may be on a physical structure that they assemble in to worship, educate, disciple and/or meet the needs of others.  If you are a “home-based” church, you are reliant on a house or similar.  If you are 100% internet based, your church is still reliant on a facility to host your servers…to produce video and audio content.

I get it…the “church” is NOT a building.  I preach that at every speaking engagement and project we serve on.  The building will never save a soul.  It will never disciple a Christ-follower.  And yet, we have a reliance on it. I also get that this is a “First-World” issue. All of us have pointed to how the body of Christ can function in very austere settings in other countries.  And yet, here we are…reliant on a built environment.

So what are you to do?

First, be thankful we have such facilities to assist us in spreading the gospel.  Don’t despise it.

Second, don’t take it for granted or take a posture that we are entitled to these physical blessings.  Money does not grow on trees, as we all know, and it requires money to own a facility.  Did you notice I did not say BUILD…I said OWN.  When you evaluate the cost to own a facility, 71-80% of the total cost of ownership is in the OPERATIONAL costs…and usually, only 20% (over a 40 year period) is the cost to build.

Thirdly, do not try to go it alone.  As a ministry leader, you need to focus on the ministry, mission, and vision of what God has called you to.  That means you need to rely on others to plan, build, and care for your building. There are several ways to accomplish this:

  1. Hire the needed people on your staff to steward what has been entrusted to you
  2. Adequately fund your General Maintenance budget to avoid deferred maintenance
  3. Outsource duties and tasks to specialists (i.e. HVAC companies for Preventive Maintenance)
  4. Set aside appropriate Capital Reserves for the inevitable future costs
  5. Obtain a firm grasp on your current facility needs related to space allocation and Facility Condition
  6. Implement systems and processes to increase operational efficiencies (and energy efficiencies) such as software applications, system integrations, policies and procedures, workflows, etc.

Need some help to get started?  Let us know how we can help.

5 Abuses of Church Property Insurance

Since early in establishing Cool Solutions Group, I have had a number of beliefs and convictions around how we insure our church facilities and why insurers do not “appear” to be more interested in the condition of the facilities they insure. Still don’t get that.

When you couple that with the fact that I have been watching the intersection of Facility Stewardship to Financial Stewardship to Personal Integrity to “Doing What is Right” as it relates to church property/facility insurance claims, I have been both bothered and concerned.  I have seen things that really bother me from both sides of the insurance “table”, and not just a little.

Let me share with you 5 abuses I have witnessed and why I think they need to be addressed:

  1. Pray for a Hail Storm – I have seen this first hand more than once.  A church does not plan for the inevitable cost of roof maintenance and replacement and start praying for a hail storm.  That is just wrong! Why should any company (insurance or not) pay for your lack of planning for the inevitable cost of roof maintenance and replacement? To take this a step further, I do not understand why church insurance continues to increase the value of church facilities when they are incurring more and more deferred maintenance that actually decreases the value. This really perplexes me (I told you I have concerns on both sides of the table). Can you imagine the outcry of churches whose coverage is reduced based on deferred maintenance or lack of maintenance? On the flip side, can you imagine what elation there would be to have little to no premium increases for churches that could empirically prove they were maintaining their facilities?  I would LOVE to see that. That would be true Facility Stewardship!
  2. The insurance company has lots of money – Aren’t you glad they do?!?!  I know I am glad Allstate does when we have a claim at the house. If they did not, how would claims get paid?  But here is the real fallacy with that line of thinking.  Where did that money come from?  Right…premiums. And who pays the premiums?  Right…all the churches (or people) they insure.  So when the insurance company pays a claim, the likelihood of all their other church clients premiums increasing is high. This is as much a Kingdom issue as it is insurance…maybe more. Talk about Financial Stewardship.
  3. We Won The Lottery  – “We just had a major insurance event…NEW SHOES FOR EVERYONE!” Insurance is bought in order to have coverage to repair/replace content and facilities that were directly impacted by the insurance event. It is not a “get out of jail free” card or a license to spend or the golden egg to offset a deficit in your budget. Yet, far too often the mindset of church leaders and staff is not aligned with the real reason for the claim dollars.  Think of it this way…if the insurance event had not occurred, what then?
  4. Pushed to the limit – We have insurance limits in the policy…let’s max them out. If there is a limit for contents or extra expenses or the like, are we not entitled to use ALL of it. Answer = NO.  In fact, not just no, but…
  5. 10 and 10 –  This one is an abuse that the insurance companies have allowed for too long. The term “10 and 10” is a construction industry term for 10% profit and 10% overhead. That means you take the raw cost of material and labor, then add 10% for overhead and 10% for profit…and you allow the general contractor to include their “General Conditions” cost of the superintendent, project manager, etc, the contractor is likely to walk away with 25-30% of the claim. Let me drill this down.  Say you have a $2 Million claim and you allow the contractor to charge 10/10 and general conditions…that could be $500,000 and a nail is not even driven.  In contrast, take that same project value for new construction, the current going rates we see are 6-8% plus general conditions…which equates to only about 15-17%. That is a potential swing of over $200,000. Now, I am not suggesting that the church get that money (refer back to #3 above), but it should reduce the amount of the claim the insurance company pays out…which saves them money…but…as indicated above in #2…it ultimately saves all the insured churches money in the form of less premium increases. NOTE:  The “10 and 10” issue I have is not with the small sub-contractor, but rather with larger claims where a bonafide General Contractor has to be engaged.

So…I realize that the above may not make me popular with many churches and even some insurance companies.  I am OK with that…because Facility Stewardship…coupled with Financial Stewardship are not just a good idea, but spiritual tenets.

Foundations: The Unseen Reality

While reflecting back at an onsite visit taken to one of our past construction projects, I pondered on its earliest phases, which are so critical to get right…since everything is reliant on these initial phases and elements of the construction project.

While on site, I inspected 2 significant components…related items and yet very different.

Component #1 – Foundations and under slab items – the trenches and forming for the foundations had just been completed and ready for inspection.

Component #2 – Substandard soil conditions – we had some soil conditions where “pumping” was observed and probes revealed inadequate soil bearing capacity…requiring remediation to correct.

Every building is built on what is referred to as a foundation. The foundation of a building transfers the weight of the building to the ground. While ‘foundation’ is a general word; normally, every building has a number of individual foundations, commonly called footings.

Since the weight of the building rests on the soil (or rock), engineers have to study the properties of the soil very carefully to ensure that it can support the loads imposed by the building. It is common for engineers to determine the safe bearing capacity of the soil after such study. As the name suggests, this is the amount of weight per unit area the soil can bear.

As you can see from the above, the foundation and the soil conditions are interdependent on each other. If either one is suspect or does not meet requirements, the other will fail. They also are literal “building blocks” in the sequence of a building. Uncorrected poor soil will lead to inadequate foundations which in turn would make any building constructed on such condition unsafe for occupancy.

What makes these 2 components even more unique, is that most of the occupants of a building will never see these items. When the pastors present the gospel from the platform, no one in the audience will be able to see the foundations on which the worship space was constructed.  When the children’s leaders are impacting the lives of hundreds of kids, they will not be worrying about the bearing capacity of the earth beneath their feet. And yet, in both instances, if these components had been constructed in a less than correct manner, they would see the impact of such issues.

Let’s look at an iconic edifice in America…the Space Needle in Seattle.  This structure soars over 600 feet in the air. It is an amazing engineering feat. But is what you see all there is?  Not hardly.  Here are some facts about its foundation.

> Its foundation is 30 feet deep

> Weighs 5,850 tons

> Contains 250 tons of reinforcing steel…almost 6 miles of rebar

> The foundation is as heavy as the Needle, enabling the airy structure to withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour.

>In 2001 it withstood an earthquake of 6.8 on the Richter scale. It is estimated that it can endure even greater shocks because the architects doubled the 1962 building code requirements.

Here is another interesting fact about foundations…they are not a single component but rather a complex set of interconnected components.  You have the soil that forms the foundation…then there is the reinforcing steel (rebar) that is interconnected in an engineered grid/pattern…then come the anchor bolts (for the space Needle, there are 72 bolts, 30 feet long EACH)…and then concrete. A LOT of concrete. In fact, it required 467 cement trucks to complete the foundation. At Freedom House Church, we maybe had 2-3 trucks total to pour our foundations…just a little difference.

Here is what really stuck out to me as I did the site inspection…these unseen components (at least unseen by the final occupants…not unseen by those that laid the foundation) are the basis for the success of the rest of the structure. Without them, the buildings would fail (Luke 6:47-48). This is not magic…it is a fact of nature and physics. There is no getting around it.

Buildings are not the only thing that require a well planned and executed foundation. Foundations are necessary in any aspect of our life worth “building” and developing. Our families. Our churches. Our businesses. Our relationships. Our finances. To be successful at any/all of these, you need a foundation that is intentionally designed for the desired outcome.


What Goes Up…

Admit it…you were finishing the rest of the verse to that song. Well, we are not talking about spinning wheels today, we are talking about one of the most ignored parts of your facility…the roof.

We generally do not think of our roofs until we experience an issue. Considering a properly installed roof can last several decades with very little issues, when we notice them it may be a very big deal to rectify. Unfortunately, many of us do not know what to look for or how to perform preventative maintenance on a roof.

It starts with understanding what type of roof system (or systems) your facility has. It could have shingles, be a metal roof, a single-ply membrane, a built-up, or any combination of roofing types depending on the size of your facility. Not just the material type is important, the slope of your roof is important as well. The steeper the slope, the more specialized the contractor needs to be in order to properly and safely work on it. It is hard to make repairs on a surface that you are not comfortable working on. The converse is true as well; a low slope roof takes someone who knows what they are doing to ensure drainage occurs the way it is supposed to.

If you have not gathered the data on your roofs, now is the time. You should have the size of the roof (I prefer using roof squares as the unit of measure), the type of roof, brand/color of the material, warranty information, and a record of inspections and repairs. You should also have a preventative maintenance schedule. The most important part of a preventative maintenance plan for your roof is simple: regular visual inspection.

I know that seems simplistic. The reality is we often wait until we see the issue from the bottom of the roof (leaks coming through the ceiling). Inspecting the roof annually helps us to spot the problems before they make it through the many layers to the ceiling. By the time an area becomes saturated enough to leak inside, there is damage to the substrate, the surrounding building materials, the insulation, as well as the potential for mold.

When we are thinking of the roof, it is also important to talk a bit about flashing. Flashing refers to any water-resistant material that is used in a roof system at the transition between the roof and another building element, a change in roof plane, or a roof penetration. Essentially, flashing is installed anywhere the roof is not able to lay on a singular plane uninterrupted. Proper flashing helps keep water out, improper flashing invites water in. Most roof leaks can be traced back to a failure in flashing. Many times, areas that are deteriorating can be quickly addressed with a proper sealant; assuming of course that you are looking for them every year.

I could go on regarding roof maintenance and inspection…but I have a better idea. Church Facility Management Solutions is providing a FREE webinar this month on Roofing. We will be going over roofing types and how to maintain them to extend their life. Why not join us, hear some great info, and get the chance to ask questions of or team of experts? We look forward to seeing you there!


The “Real” Cost of Facility Ownership: What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary

As many of you know, I come from a background of planning and building ministry facilities. I have been blessed to invest over 30 years of my life in serving churches to develop new and renovated ministry facilities. That phase of my life brought me great joy and fulfillment. But now I am very burdened by the millions…and billions of dollars that are spent each year on religious construction without a clear understanding of the “real” cost of ownership. I also think that most ministry leaders do not understand that the ongoing costs eclipse the initial costs and do so in a much bigger way than you would imagine.

Let’s look at the REAL cost of ownership of our ministry facility:

  1. INITIAL COST: For this exercise, let’s assume that our new ministry facility is 30,000 SF for $4,777,550
  2. COST OF “MONEY”: Let’s assume that we borrowed $3,000,000 to pay for the project and we did so based on a 15 year loan at 6%…but paid it off in 7 years. In this scenario, you will have paid approximately $1.1M in interest.
  3. COST OF OPERATION: Based on our research and bench-marking provided by IFMA (International Facility Managers Association), the average church in America will spend $4.50 to $7.00 per square foot annually for janitorial services, utilities and general maintenance. In addition, a church will spend an additional amount in capital improvements that will be in the $1.00 to $2.00/SF range (if the capital reserve account is started at the time construction is complete…this number grows significantly higher if you neglect the capital reserve account during the early years of the building’s life cycle). For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that we will spend $6.00/SF for operational and capital reserve items. This may be low…but I want the calculations to be realistic.

Assume a 40 year life cycle (which is not that long)…at 1.5% per year of inflation. Remember that operational costs are perpetual and paid for with inflated dollars…so this is going to increase, and 1.5% is probably TOO LOW. $210,000/ yr x 40 years at 1.5% per year inflation for 40 years…without compounding = $13,440,000.00

So let’s look at what this means:

  1. Initial costs including design – $4,777,550
  2. Cost of Money – $1,100,000
  3. Cost of life cycle operations and capital reserve – $13,440,000 (that is $448/SF…OUCH)
    TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP = $19,317,550

WOW…that is a BIG number…now…here is the shocking part:

  1. The combined cost of the construction partner and the design professionals is only 3% of the total cost of ownership.
  2. The construction cost…including the design…is only about 22% of the total cost of ownership.
  3. The interest paid is only about 6% of the total cost of ownership.
  4. Leaving…71% of the total cost of ownership in operation costs and capital expenditures.

As I indicated prior, State Farm Insurance found that they spend about 80% of the total cost of ownership of commercial buildings on operational costs over 40 year. Further, a book was published in 1969 by THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS entitled – LIFE CYCLE COST ANALYSIS 2: USING IT IN PRACTICE by David S. Haviland. In this book, Mr. Haviland states:

“The INITIAL DESIGN and CONSTRUCTION of a facility comprises about 15% of the total cost of a building over its 40 year lifespan. The remaining 85% is made up of the building’s OPERATIONS and MAINTENANCE COSTS.”

So…what costs more…the initial cost…or the cost after you occupy? I think the numbers speak for themselves. So…do we invest the same amount of time and energy in planning our operational costs as we did when we developed our master plans and floor plans? Why do we get all in a tiff about an architect charging 7% instead of 5%…or the construction partner charging 6% instead of 3%? The fees that encompass only 3% of the total cost of ownership feel so important at the time we hire them…but the decisions, direction, means and methods that this team suggests and implements will be with you for the life of your buildings. Do we have our eyes on the REAL cost of facility ownership?

If Facility Stewardship is really about being wise stewards of all God has entrusted, then I think it is fair to say that most of us have our priorities upside down. Facility Stewardship must include:

  1. Purposeful Facility Planning – Taking the time to really evaluate the “genetic code” of the church, reviewing the vision, determining IF facilities are needed to accomplish the vision and mission of the church in addition to evaluating the potential financial implications.
  2. Proper Facility Development – This is not just about construction…but also encompasses the financial stewarding of the resources God has entrusted to us by planning facilities that meet the ministry objectives…AND…that do not bankrupt the church in the future with operational costs. As seen above…most of your long term cost of facility ownership WILL BE established based on the planning during this phase of any project.
  3. Proactive Facility Management and Long Term Care – This is where we too often fall grossly short in our Facility Stewardship Initiative.
    Think about it…then do something about it.

Do you need some help getting started? Don’t forget to order your copy of our manual –   Facility Stewardship: Managing What God Has Entrusted To You. It is a must have for every church that has a facility!


 

5 Ways Your Parking Lot Might be Holding Back the Redemptive Potential of Your Church

This week we are thrilled to share the wisdom of a great church leader and friend, Rich Birch of unSeminary.comRich has become a trusted friend the past few years and I really appreciate his insights. For example…believe it or not, your parking lot could be the thing that is holding back the potential of your church. In fact, your church might not be living up to its total calling because of what is happening at the parking lot. Rich is going to unpack this for us below.  Thanks Rich for all you do!

Your Parking Lot Might be Limiting the Redemptive Potential of Your Church!

Cars have a profound impact on the manner in which we “do” church across the country. As the adoption of the car took off in the first half of last century, our approach to churches changed and morphed accordingly. The local parish gave way to the regional church which ended up paving the way for the entire mega-church movement, which became a fertile ground for the multisite movement. We would do well to understand the impact of cars and connecting our parking lots to our ministry because they are so connected to what we do. Here are a few ways that parking lots might be negatively impacting your ministry.

A Full Parking Lot is Limiting Your Church

Obviously, most church leaders are inside their buildings when their services start. Your people might know that you have a problem and you’re never around to see it. Full parking lots are a great sign because that implies lots of people are attending your church. However, if they are “too full” like a packed auditorium, it can actually turn people off.

Most municipalities’ bylaws are inadequate to tackle the required parking spots per seat in the main auditorium. Lots of cities typically only require 1 spot for every 4 seats in your auditorium. (I know one city by us that only requires 1 for every 40!) My experience suggests that your church needs 1 spot for every 2 seats in your auditorium. Most legacy church buildings were not built with this much space and might get cramped every week.

If your parking lot is more than 70% full as your services are starting, it’s time to start looking for better parking solutions. You want your guests to be able to find a spot easily.

Four Tactics for Dealing with a Full Parking Lot:

  • Street Parking // Diving into your municipalities parking bylaws might reveal that your area allows street parking on Sunday. In many regions, the rules pertaining to weekend street parking are different during the week. It’s worthwhile investing the time to figure out if this type of opportunity exists on the streets around your building.
  • Cross Use Agreements // Look around your immediate neighbors and find someone who you could borrow spots from. Oftentimes, other businesses and organizations will be open to you using their empty parking spots. However it’s much better to approach them and talk about it rather than just starting to use it.
  • Park Your Leaders Off Site // Those who volunteer and lead at your church should be encouraged (or even required) to park off your location. Cast vision with them around the idea of creating more space for visitors and ask them to do the extra walk.
  • Shuttle Buses // Churches facing a more acute parking problem might need to resort to off-site parking that isn’t adjacent to their property and might need to offer remote parking supported by shuttle buses. This approach should ideally be the “last stop” before you look at building more parking spaces. It can be a great solution and provide good service for families connecting with your church.

Church Parking Lots without Volunteers Are Missed Opportunities

If your church doesn’t have people serving on a parking team, you must know that people within your church are missing out on a perfect service opportunity. Over the years, I’ve found that churches that have parking teams are actively engaging a group of volunteers that lots of other churches seem to be unable to connect with. I love the churches that have parking teams which espouse an almost superhero-like ethics as they serve outdoors all year long. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this team from the swift completion of their appointed service” … even the postal service can’t claim that anymore!

Your church grows when more people get plugged in and they spread the word among their friends. As you get this group of volunteers plugged into your church, they will start telling other people. Also, churches develop faster when they see more people getting plugged into the community. As you move a group of people from anonymity to community through serving on a team, the church is inevitably strengthened.

5 Tips for Launching a Parking Team

  • Start with the Who // The team leader is critically important for this team. (Any team, really!) Find an outgoing team builder who doesn’t mind asking people to join the team. Typically these are high energy folks because it takes a lot to push and stay outdoors all year long!
  • Launch in a Mild Season // Please don’t launch this team in July if your church is in Florida, or in January if you’re in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Launch the team in a “shoulder season” where your team can effectively do its task before the heat or cold sets in.
  • Consider the Uniform // Give your people something to wear that will help them stand out while serving. Think about the different kinds of weather when considering various parts of the uniform.
  • Training! Training! Training! // Make sure to think through exactly what kind of experience you want your guests to have upon their arrival. Talk it over with the team before they start. Draw it out on a diagram or two for the visual learners. Oftentimes, theme parks do a fantastic job of parking people. Maybe you could take your people to visit a theme park to watch and understand what they do.
  • Celebrate Lots! // This team needs lots of public celebration and admiration. These people are considered to be heroes of the church because of what they do for you. Talk lots about them from the stage and celebrate their service. You can’t overemphasize how amazing this group of people really is!

Your Church’s Parking Lot is a First Impression … all week long!

The first thing that most people typically see about your church is your parking lot. This is not only the case on weekends when your guests arrive, but also all week long as most people just drive by your parking lot.

I’ve seen some churches with a small forest growing between the cracks in the parking lot by communicating that it’s a very long time since anyone parked there. We’ve all seen a worn out parking lot that hasn’t been painted since the Spice Girls were on Top 10 radio and it all looks far too depressing.

Stand back and look at your parking lot. If it were the only thing that people knew about your church, what would it communicate? For most of us, it is the only thing people know about and identify with our churches because they simply drive by and don’t come in. Ensure your parking lot communicates that your church is welcoming and open for one and all!

On a related note … have you ever stopped to consider what your parking lot communicates if it’s empty throughout the week? All of our buildings have their heaviest usage during the weekends, but does that mean they’re completely empty during the week? Does an empty parking lot throughout weekdays implicitly communicate that your church isn’t relevant to the lives of rest of the people? Just wondering.

Is Your Parking Lot Holding Back Single Parents?

Today, 1 in 4 kids are raised by a single parent. [ref] If your church isn’t seeing at least that number of single-parent-headed families in your church, the onus may lie on the parking lot. Traveling with young kids can be particularly challenging as a single parent. By the time a single parent has arrived at your church, they have already braved a lot to make that happen. The last daunting task is getting out of the car and across your parking lot into your facility.

5 Ways Your Church Can Be More Single-Parent-Friendly in Your Parking Lots

  • Designate “Parent Parking” Spots // You don’t need to make these “single parent parking spots” because people do appreciate some level of anonymity. Having spots that are closest to the front and have easy access to your children’s ministry is a gift to all parents!
  • Train Leaders to Look for Single Parents // The simple act of helping a parent with a stroller in your facility can be a sign of selfless love and care. Having team members walk with single parents and help their kids get into your ministry can make all the difference.
  • Have “Fun Transport” Options // Wagons are a simple yet effective tool that some kids love to jump into and get driven into church in style. A next level option would be to have golf carts or even a tram! (I love the tram at Disney World!)
  • Umbrellas Are A Must // Train your people to look out for parents on rainy days to meet them with an umbrella at the car. There is nothing more thoughtful than when someone steps up beside your car with an open umbrella on a rainy day to help you get your kids out!
  • Great (Obvious) Signage // If you have two or three kids in tow, you are focused on keeping them safe coming across your parking lot. It can be difficult to discern where to go. You can’t make your signage too obvious to people. Make it better, simpler and brighter so that a frazzled parent doesn’t need to exhaust their brainpower to figure it out!

Parking Lots Are a “Hidden In Plain Sight” Stewardship Issue.

Finally, parking lots are expensive. It’s not uncommon for parking lots to cost at least $5,500 per spot on a fairly low complexity build. [ref] As a point of reference, let’s say your church has 500 seats in the auditorium with only 100 parking spots. You’d ideally like to add another 150 spots to match the 1 spot for every two seats we quoted above. After factoring in all the design, drainage, curbing, painting, etc., it would be an investment of $825,000 for your church – assuming that you don’t run into any significant problems along the way!

Once parking lots are built, they become a recurring maintenance issue that often gets differed longer than it should; ultimately costing the church more than it needs to. If your church doesn’t keep up with resurfacing and patching on a periodic basis, you can be forced into a situation where major renovations need to be done at a massive cost. No one wants to invest massively in maintaining a parking lot when there are so many other pressing ministry needs, but ignoring its significance may have severe consequences down the road. You should be looking at regular maintenance of your parking lots on a bi-annual or at least annual basis!

We often take this resource for granted and hence, it’s easy to not invest in. Typically, the cost of a parking lot gets hidden as part of a major capital expansion. This is why we don’t consider what an important resource it is to the church. Challenge that mindset because it really is an amazing tool for our ministry!


Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 15 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner.  He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church – a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is know for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact.

Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution. He has a weekly blog and podcast that helps with stuff you wish they taught in seminary at www.unseminary.com

Church Construction Team Combinations to Avoid

In the world of church facility construction, renovation and development, there are several integral roles and responsibilities that are required for every project.  They may or may not be paid professionals for each role, but they are present and the responsibilities to the project are no less important.

Here are the basics that virtually every project must have as part of the church’s team:

  1. Architect/Designer – To plan, program, design, develop drawings, obtain permits and do compliance inspections.
  2. Engineers – To engineer the building components such as structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection.
  3. Interior design – To pull it all together and put the “top coat” on the project…what is visible.
  4. Civil Engineer – To develop all the required site (land) related engineering.
  5. Geo-technical Engineer – To investigate the soil conditions and make recommendations.
  6. Surveyor – To verify property attributes such as property boundaries, topography, tree locations, easements, etc.
  7. General Contractor (sometimes referred to as a Construction Manager) – The entity that is licensed to pull the permit and direct/take responsibility for the construction activities of the project.
  8. Sub/Trade Contractors – The firms performing the actual construction duties under the direction of the General Contractor
  9. Special Inspector – This is new since 2000 when the International Building Code was released, and adopted by most municipalities. Their role is to provide milestone inspections of predetermined requirements of the project. These inspections are different than the inspections performed by the local building inspector…and these are a cost to the church.
  10. Specialty engineers, consultants and integrators – This can include entities such as A/V/L (Audio, Video and Theatrical Lighting), kitchen consultants, cafe consultants, environmental graphics, acoustician, vision clarity, generosity/stewardship, financing, etc, etc, etc.
  11. Owners Rep – The person who is the liaison/advocate for the church to all the above as well as the translator of all things project related. This should be an independent 3rd party.

Now, I have seen some of these hats worn by the same firm or person. For example, some civil engineers also do surveying. Most integrated architects also have interior designers on their staff, which makes perfect sense. Some architects have engineering disciplines in their studio. Some general contractors also perform certain sub-contractor scopes of work.

Another combination of roles that has been utilized in many church projects is where the General Contractor is also the Designer/Architect. In this format, referred to as “Design/Build”, the contractor and architect are either the same entity or they are under one contractual agreement with the church. This format can work and I have firsthand experience where it has served many churches well. But the church is giving up the checks and balances that come from independent entities, each with their own contractual and moral obligation to the church. Again, I come from this world (30 years), but it is critical for your church to understand not only the upside of this dual role, but also the things that will be inherently different.

Finally, here are the 2 combinations of roles that need to be avoided whenever possible.  I have seen more projects go sideways when these combinations are implemented:

  1. “We have a guy.” – Lord have mercy!!! I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have heard this and watched churches engage their “guy” to do a major role in the project, to only witness things go terribly wrong. Again…I am not saying it always go poorly…I have seen where, by God’s grace, it worked…that it is far more the exception than the rule. I have seen more “Jack-leg” work and weekend warrior projects that ultimately have to be re-done (usually at even higher cost than they would have invested from the onset) due to poor workmanship…or design…or acoustics…or blah, blah, blah. In the end, have we really been good stewards of what God has entrusted to us? Was it worth saving a buck to damage a relationship? Is it worth doing segments of the project DIY but in-turn have sub-par aspects of the final project?
  2. Architect as Owner’s Rep. – This is one that I really struggle with and have actually been kept me up at night when I think of it. This is the epitome of the classic phrase “fox in the hen house”. Here are the primary reasons why I feel this way:
  • As a general rule, architects are poor cost estimators. Ask any of them…they will readily admit this.
  • The preponderance of the project budget is spent pre-construction.  The construction is merely the fulfillment of the lines drawn on paper (or in a computer) during the design phase. Given that, do you want the financial viability of your project to be laid in the hands of the entity drawing the lines?
  • Accountability…who will hold the design professional accountable if they are also the Owner’s Rep? What if there is a problem with the design drawings?  If the Owner’s Rep is responsible to be the advocate for the church and translator of all things project related, how can the design professional (as Owner’s Rep) be objective if the issue is going to impact them in an adverse manner?

Does your project need an architect? No question! Get a good one…call me if you need some recommendations.

Does your project needs an Owner’s Rep? Absolutely!

Just be cautious about commingling these roles…and stay clear of the “guy.”


Why Use Facility Management Software For Your Church: Part 5

This is it…the 5th and final segment in our discussion about the positive attributes of utilizing a facility management software solution for your church or ministry. The other segments can be viewed on our blog page.

Today, as we wrap this up, I want to give you some features that you should consider as you are looking for the right system for your use. As I have mentioned prior, there are several good products on the market…so do the due diligence and find the right solutions for you.

So….what are the features you should consider?

Minimum Features:

  1. Produce and evaluate Work Order Requests: We believe that as a minimum, your system should allow your staff/personnel to notify you of the need for a work order. The process should provide enough information to the recipient to make an assessment of the issue before they physically explore it further.
  2. Prioritize the Work Orders: As part the work order process, the sender should be able to establish a “priority” of the work…at least in their minds. This will give the recipient a heads-up as to how the sender perceives this issue.
  3. Track work orders: The better products on the market allow you to track each work order that is generated…through its entire life cycle.
  4. Historical data: This is very important…what is the historical data associated with your equipment? When was the last time it was serviced and what were the issues then? If the system does not track this, then you will have to do it manually…which seems redundant.

Upgraded features:

  1. Track vendors and assign work orders directly to them (even if they are in-house or volunteers): The better systems on the market will provide for the tracking of the subcontractors, suppliers and vendors associated with the care of your facilities. Who are they? What service categories do they work in?How do I reach them? Who is my primary contact? Are they a volunteer group in the church? In addition, the ability to have an automated process for sending work orders can save you valuable time and money…not to mention a reduction in misunderstandings.
  2. Notification process for all work: The best systems on the market have automated notification processes. These should include notification for when a work order is requested, when an ETA is established by the Vendor, when the work is completed and if the work is going to exceed the agreed-to projected cost. As it is said…time is money…and these systems are meant to save time.
  3. Asset tracking and assigning of work orders to specific equipment: As we explored in a previous segment, it is ideal to be able to track all of the equipment in your facility. It is best if you can catalog all of your equipment and then be able to tie a work order to a specific piece of equipment. If you cannot catalog the equipment and track it…then it may not be the right product for you.
  4. Capital Reserve and Life Cycle Planning: How are you currently projecting the life cycle cost of your equipment? Do you have an ongoing list of capital improvements that need to be made? Do you know how much money it will take every year to replace items that have come to the end of their useful life? Having the ability to track these items in one centralized place will make the long term management of your facilities much better.

There is more that we could discuss…but let’s leave it at that for now…if you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact us direct.