An Architect’s 3 Tips to Help a Growing Church

Seeking to meet the needs of a growing congregation is an exciting challenge! An architect can assist the process of designing and building a new church or renovating an existing one during all 3 necessary stages: Analysis, Conceptualization, and Realization.

(Research & Planning)

The goal of this stage is to develop a building program that reflects the values, priorities, and personality of the church body and helps facilitate their mission. So, before you begin, consider these vital issues. The first step is to designate a Building Committee.

Who should lead this Building Committee?
Set up the leadership, decision-making, and authority structure for your building project.

  • The Building Committee leader must be able to see the big picture and have a clear understanding of the overall goal.
  • Committee members should understand the church’s needs and be able to articulate how a building project will strengthen the church’s ministry. Ideally, they should be able to contribute some level of expertise, input, and leadership for key ministry areas, including finances, project management, construction, interior design and staff representation.
  • Be sure to outline a clear authority structure for committees and individual leaders so that decision-making can progress smoothly.

Who are you and where are you going?
The Building Committee should try to answer the following questions:

  • Who are we as a unique congregation?
  • What is our mission?
  • Why should we build?

Is it feasible for your church to grow its facilities?

  • Review financial records from the past 3-5 years and consider current attendance, income and expenses, energy bills, assets and liabilities.
  • Collect and review these items for your existing site and building:

°  Site Survey – note easements of record or other constraints

°  Plans of existing building, including architectural, civil, structural and mechanical

°  Existing Program – list size, location, and function of all ongoing activities and their spatial requirements (room size, A/V needs, adjacencies, etc.). An architect may be of great help with this!

  • Count the cost: Examine the financial impact a building project will have on the current and future ministries of the church. Establish a realistic total project budget and consider the cost of future operations and maintenance.
  • Explore Financial Abilities and Options

° Talk to a lender who makes loans to churches. Even if you don’t finance your building project with a loan, you will learn about your strengths and weaknesses by looking at the church’s financial picture from an outside perspective.

° Contact the church’s insurance agent to review insurance requirements for the building project.

  • Contact other church leaders with recent church building experience and ask how they handled the financing and fundraising for their project.

Plan to hire professionals who can co-author the plan for the building project in conjunction with your leadership.

Church committees rarely contain all the necessary expertise in the combined areas of church growth, financial analysis, fundraising, church design, and building construction experience to effectively and objectively guide a building program to its best outcome. Who do you need to bring on board to augment your church leadership’s expertise?

When hiring an Architectural or Construction Firm, be sure to ask them:

  • Does their firm have successful experience with similar projects? Get references and call them.
  • Has the firm done projects using similar construction methods and cost?
  • Can the firm show a strong financial picture?

Experience counts! Select a church design specialist who understands ministry and, ideally, can oversee all phases of the project from master planning and conceptual design to building permits and construction.

What are the future spatial requirements based on realistic estimates for growth?

We recommend gathering information from all key ministry leaders with the purpose of identifying vital, measurable criteria and priority goals for each. This perspective from the ministry leaders will help the staff and church leadership see the common vision and overall ministry focus.

  • Be sure to consider how Sanctuary space may also be utilized as an auditorium or meeting hall, including requirements for drama and concerts, as well as related spaces like fellowship space and conference rooms, administration, education, childcare, youth activities, and recreational space.
  • Consider the needs for outdoor activities such as open space, playgrounds, playfields,  and covered drop-off and parking requirements. There may be limits on how much of the site can be developed or utilized, based on Zoning requirements, stormwater detention, or other factors.
  • The information should be collected in a written programming document that can be reviewed and prioritized by the Building Leadership Committee.

Be wise stewards. Invest in quality solutions that will serve your growing congregation and ministries well for the next 10 to 20 years.

(Designing & Promoting)

With ministry goals and facility priorities understood, the next step is to create a conceptual Master Plan that expresses these program goals and may guide the project through multiple phases. This plan will also serve to communicate the overall vision to the broader congregation during fundraising.

When creating the Site and Building Master Plan, these issues should be considered:

  • Visual Presentation – How will building look to the community?
  • Zoning Constraints – Are there any limitations to what can be built?
  • Vehicular Traffic – How does it flow from the street to drop-off and to parking?
  • What are the relationships between parking and building entry points as well as recreational areas?
  • Church Growth Logistics – Are there optimal auditorium and classroom size ratios? Can growth occur in phases?
  • Planning for future expansion and/or functional alterations of some spaces
  • Accommodating staffing and security issues
  • Scope of each phase – what can be accomplished, in terms of both budget and time?

Communicate the Vision and Garner Support

The goal of a building project is to create a building that reflects the values and personality of the church body it serves, so it will be important to get the congregation on board. Conceptual design can result in promotional drawings, renderings, or other materials that communicate this vision to them as well as to the surrounding community.

  • Congregation members need to feel that they are participants in the coming changes to the church.
  • Plan to make congregational presentations and distribute promotional material to communicate your vision and energize the core of your church to embrace the plan and move it forward.
  • Conduct a design charrette! Bring together key church leaders and members and conduct an intensive design session to discuss goals communicated in the prioritized program and assemble them into something graphic and visual. This interactive session often provides invaluable input in guiding the design process and builds excitement among the participants to start the momentum of the project.
  • Residents and officials from the local neighborhood also need to get used to the idea of change, so be sure to communicate with them so that they will understand the positive impact it will have in their community. It may be time to prepare a formal zoning submission to gain the approvals necessary to allow the first phase of design and construction to commence.


During this last stage, your chosen architect will develop full construction documents for at least the first phase of your Master Plan, and the construction delivery process will begin!

Designate a Church Representative for the Construction Period

Select one or two contacts to monitor the construction issues, attend construction meetings, handle information and paperwork, address questions, and stay in regular contact with the project. We have seen this work effectively, especially when the representative has some background in business or construction.

Select a Construction Delivery System

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of various contractual approaches, including Design-Build and Construction Management. Note that Construction Management is often performed on a true “open book” basis. The selection of a delivery system will impact the architect’s role during design and should bear on the decision of who to hire.

The Value of an Energy Audit

A good energy assessment can provide clear guidelines for relative investment vs. projected payback period for incorporating different types of energy upgrades into the building design. An audit’s relatively low cost can be re-captured in operational energy savings, as well as possible energy utility company incentives.


  • Can articulate, based on investigative analysis, what it needs to build to meet future ministry needs.
  • Knows that its vision for ministry can be built and sustained into the future on the selected property.
  • Understands the cost of construction and has measured its financial ability to meet the cost.
Allan Childress
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