How to Prepare for a Church Building Project: Part 5 of 5

February 12, 2020 |David Graf

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Part 5: Design

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The design phase of a church building project is perhaps the most daunting part of the entire process.

What is accomplished during this phase will impact your church for decades. Assuming you have followed the preliminary steps laid out in parts 1–4 of this blog series, it’s time to select an architect.
Your Building Committee, in close collaboration with the elders, should begin gathering names of potential architects. These may come from consulting with other churches in your region that have recently built, talking with area contractors, or any other number of sources. While the design experience of architects who build only churches nationwide may be great, a local architect will likely have better command of local building codes and your community’s culture.

It is vital that any architect, whether large or small, national or local, have significant church design experience. Churches are known as “special use” buildings. They’re designed differently from typical commercial buildings, so the designer should have the appropriate experience. Many elements go into successful church design, including human traffic-flow considerations, square-footage needs assessments, “third-space” and fellowship requirements, and proper acoustics and lighting for worship spaces. These elements will not be handled well by an architect with limited church experience.

Be sure to get a comprehensive list of all previous church clients from your architectural candidates, including the timeframe in which they worked on their projects. Become familiar with the end products, either through pictures or, ideally, by touring the buildings. Do you see much variety in an architect’s designs, or do most of the projects look similar? This may speak to that architect’s creativity and willingness to design to a church’s needs. The best time to tour is on a Sunday morning. This will tell you if the architect was good at planning for an inviting space for visitors, people-flow and capacities, acoustics and lighting, etc.

Of course, it’s also important to speak with some of the reference churches’ leaders—ideally, pastors and members of their building committees. Ask about the architects’ planning process. Did they dig deeply into the church’s vision and mission statements and their implications for design? Were they responsive to church requests? How well did they work with the building committee and general contractor? How accurate were their cost and time estimates? Did they have a good grasp of city building requirements? How many change orders were initiated because of poor design?

If you cannot meet with church leaders in person, create questionnaires for their building committee chairmen and pastors to complete. Be thorough in vetting your architect—you won’t regret doing the due diligence up front.

When you have chosen an architect, you should provide them with as many design parameters and requirements as possible. How important are liturgical design elements—like cathedral ceilings, pews, and stained glass—in your building? Liturgical design can be an effective tool for outreach, particularly if you’re in an area with many Lutherans and Catholics who have specific expectations of a church building. Practical design, on the other hand, considers the functional uses of the building above attempts to promote a sense of awe or reverence. While this style may feel uncomfortable to liturgical churchgoers, it can be welcoming to those without a traditional church background.

Another consideration is whether you want the space to function as efficiently as possible to save space and money. The more a space is designed with one specific use in mind, the less efficient the overall design becomes. You may want to think creatively about how you can use the same space for multiple purposes throughout the week, reducing your overall building size and cost in the process. Doing this type of layout takes great creativity, but it can be an effective cost-saving measure.

Your building team, in partnership with your architect, will eventually need to consider other factors as well, such as sound and lighting design, furniture, and the decorating scheme. Our team at Orchard Alliance has helped many churches through the process, and we would be honored to advise your building committee on design as well. Please contact us any time to get started.

Click here to learn about Orchard Alliance’s property funding and advisement programs.

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