At Dow Smith Company, we truly love building churches, and we understand that every dollar you spend on the construction of your facility is a dollar that won’t be spent on ministry, mission or staff. With this in mind, we want to help you be sure that every dollar you do spend on your building is being spent wisely.
We feel we are called to guide churches as they design and build their facilities, and we are good at it. Forgive me if that sounds arrogant, but we often talk with churches that were led down a path by their designer who drew up plans the church cannot afford. These churches paid way too much money up front, and now must do a complete redesign of their project in order to meet their budget. This results in a lot of wasted dollars as well as hundreds of hours of time lost by staff and church members.
Probably the second most common conversation we have with churches is that the plans they used to build their building did not take into account future expansions. For example, there was no clear path on how to expand children’s ministry space, parking or fellowship gathering space.
This got us thinking. Preparing to build or renovate your church is a lot like setting a table. Here's how:
Which table should I choose?
Do you need a larger table or will a smaller table do? This depends on the number of people you have invited. Should you opt for one larger table or several smaller tables? In the same way you would plan a holiday gathering based upon the number of family and friends you have invited (and if there will be a separate children's table), planning your church's construction requires the same thinking.
And the shape of the table matters, too. This is always a key component of our discussions with the church planning team. When developing the layout for a fellowship hall or dining facility, you need to consider whether you would like round tables or rectangular tables. This may seem like a small detail, but you know what they say—the devil is in the details. Round tables promote fellowship and engagement with one another, while rectangular tables make it more difficult for everyone at the table to see or hear everyone. But round tables take up more space than rectangular tables. So, if you plan to incorporate round tables into your space, your facility will need to be larger to accommodate that extra space.
Understanding how the table should be set
You wouldn't put the tablecloth on after the plates, silver wear and napkins have been set. Understanding the construction process and the steps you need to take before, during and after will help facilitate your project and keep it moving forward. There are many questions to be answered and the order in which they are answered is important. Where is the site and is it suitable for construction? What permits and approvals will be necessary and whose responsibility is it to secure them? What level of funds are necessary before we begin? Which construction delivery system is best? Do I need a set of plans first or should I select a contractor first? What should be included in a construction contract? These questions, and more, are all important to your project and you need to answer them before you even decide whether your project is feasible.
Should the table be set for a formal or informal event?
Your church has a culture or a “feel.” Is it more traditional or more relaxed? Your church will need to reflect that in its design and it’s functionality. Do you require more social space because your church has a strong community that like to meet after services? Is your congregation comprised of many young families with children? Is music a big part of your church's ministry? These factors all play a role in how you design your worship and social space.
Who is coming to supper?
Your church is going to need space and facilities for older people, as well as middle-aged people and children. From sanctuary to social space to Sunday school, the building should meet the needs of your entire congregation. The needs of the able-bodied as well as handicapped individuals need to considered in everything from access to restroom facilities to wayfinding. Sunday school and vacation bible school require additional needs. Is part of your church's mission running a food pantry or a daycare? All uses and potential uses of your church space should be considered.
What can we afford to put on the table?
For the most part, this will depend upon your budget and your church's ability to raise funds. Pre-planning as well as identifying the mission and vision of your church building program is key. This will determine how your building's size and amenities will be able to help carry out your ministry and your mission, while accommodating your congregation's spiritual and social needs. We also recommend that churches create a list of needs and wants. This helps prioritize what is essential and can be very helpful when determining costs.
Is there room for more at the table?
Consider the size of your congregation today as well as the future. Will you have the space or the ability to add facilities when your congregation grows? When this is planned for in advance, the church can save a lot of time, money and headaches.
If you take time to set the table correctly, a few things will happen:
• you will be better informed about the construction process, your role and your contractor's role
• you will understand if you are financially ready to move forward
• you will save time and money in design and construction costs
• you will be able to better visualize what your project will look like
• you will save time and energy because you will understand what is essential and what isn't
• you will be better prepared for future growth and the future needs of your congregation
• you will have a more stress-free and pleasurable experience
One final thought: When you make plans to build, expand or renovate, make sure your construction team has the skills, gifts and commitment to provide accurate cost estimating services in the very early stages and that your plan includes what can be built now and what may be built during future expansions. Most importantly, select a contractor that can help you understand what is financially feasible for your church well before plans are even developed.
We know how to guide you in all of that.
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Dow Smith Company is proud to be recognized as a Certified Best Christian-Owned Business by the Best Christian Workplace Institute (BCWI). BCWI helps us create an amazing company culture based on eight factors: Fantastic Teams, Life-Giving Work, Outstanding Talent, Uplifting Growth, Rewarding Compensation, Inspirational Leadership, Sustainable Strategy, and Healthy Communication. The Dow Smith Team is honored to have been recognized for our efforts in establishing a positive work environment by the BCWI in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.