An honest sobering view from someone whos been on bo

by Rev. Steve Barduson AIA, LEED AP

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Keeping Up with the Pastor Joneses – The Temptation To Covet

The first temptation faced by growing churches happens while attending a conference at that national megachurch, scanning the glossies of a worship magazine or visiting a friend’s new facilities. In their book, “When Not To Build,” Bowman and Hall state that “Nine out of 10 churches that have called me thinking they need to build have a better, less-costly alternative.” Our ratios are significantly lower, but the caution is nonetheless sobering. Don’t start a building program to provide momentum to a stuck church, consensus to a split church or financial growth to an indebted church.

For those who build, there is an insatiable temptation to covet what other churches have. Along with the enticement comes the desire to build or buy more than the budget allows. You will be bombarded with ideas and needs that extend past your church’s calling or building-program budget.

When tempted to keep up with the Pastor Joneses, we encourage you to focus even more tightly upon your church’s vision and to listen more intently to God’s calling for your project.

  • Most-tempted churches: those with the fastest rate of growth
  • Most-tempting area: worship center technology
  • Real quote: “We loved that 32-foot screen, but we will want ours to be even bigger … more than 50 feet wide.”

Beginning Without Vision – The Temptation of Myopia and Haste

This temptation has the most far-reaching, impactful implications to both the church and the design team. It is the temptation to start a building project without a clearly articulated church vision first and without a clearly understood campus vision second. We know that without vision, plans fail and people perish, but without campus vision, building plans fail and, well, people leave.

Evangelical churches are consistently in a hurry to get a building built, thereby missing the opportunity to ensure the building fits into the campus master-planned vision or into the church’s God-given vision.

When tempted to rush into a project without a clear vision, take the time to make sure that your church’s philosophy of ministry is both known and communicated. Secondly, work out a campus master plan of development based upon the church’s vision and the programmatic needs of the ministries.

As architects, we feed off the clarity of a church’s specific calling since it allows us to physically represent that vision on the campus. The buildings are physical tools to carry out God’s vision for the church. One church’s name came from their calling to Jesus as their “cornerstone,” so we designed the building to be supported at the main corner by the largest boulder ever quarried in the state. Another church stresses how we all enter God’s church as broken people and that “our story” is more often associated with our brokenness than with our perfection, so the entry sidewalk was intentionally “broken” all along its edge leading into and out of the church.

Every church project has this opportunity to express the church’s calling and philosophy of ministry. It does take time and additional money, but campus vision gives birth to momentum, excitement and clarity of focus. Worrying about the location of outlets on the architect’s first day or pushing the process to get it done “yesterday” could yield risk, mistakes, second-guessing and stress.

  • Most-tempted churches: churches with slower growth or impatience
  • Real quote: “It’s just a building – we don’t need to spend the money on a master plan … and [regarding gaining community consensus] we don’t need full buy-in. The elders can communicate the idea well enough.”

Lacking Diversity on the Building Committee – The Temptation of Sectarianism

This temptation has been one of the most surprising to us and is one that we had to learn from experience to avoid. We have a joke in the firm: “We know we’re in trouble when we walk into the building committee meeting and see only male baby boomers.”

We did not add this temptation to be politically correct – it is simply essential (and common sense) to have the people who are the focus of your outreach or who are the primary users of the property to be represented on the building committee. We encourage the church that is tempted to sectarianism to include women and seniors, along with a diversity in age (include the emerging church), economics (if you only include the wealthy, you may be surprised at their expectations) and race (meet or/exceed the diversity of your community). Also, remember that the building committee is not an elder board or pastoral position, demanding strict compliance with the Titus 1 and I Timothy 3 type of qualifications.

We also encourage you to adopt what we call a “minds of many” process where a fully diverse group of stakeholders shares in the brainstorming workshops. Through this, a greater percentage of the church gains ownership and input into the process, while the core committee is still able to override errant ideas.

We believe that the senior pastor(s) should be integrated into this group – especially during the design and preconstruction phases of the project. Problems arise when the pastor(s) relies on someone else to communicate his desires with the committee – or, when in false humility, he chooses to not participate, yet continues to exert influence from outside the committee. In liturgical churches, if the pastor(s) isn’t present, the building committee doesn’t meet.

Finally, we have observed that most evangelical churches often leave an important, influential person off of the committee, though he or she still sways the group. This person may be the pastor’s wife, a major donor, a previous staff member or even someone on the committee who inconsistently attends. It is critical that these members join the committee and that all committee members attend each meeting – especially during critical phases.

  • Most-tempted churches: well-established churches
  • Most-tempting areas to overlook: women, emerging church members, pastor’s wife, pastor
  • Real quote: “We don’t need women on the committee, in fact … [with a smirk] we will tell them what is best.” [The project later erupted with problems].

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