Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mountain Park First Baptist Church

Mountain Park First Baptist Church in Stone Mountain walkthrough video showing proposed improvements to their foyer by Foreman Seeley Fountain Architecture.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Changing Youth Building

By Jerry A. Fountain, Architect, AIA

A few years ago Oldsmobile ran a commercial that said, “This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile.” A similar statement can be said for some new youth buildings being built today across America. And to that I say, “Thank God!”

For far too long churches have given the youth programs the ‘left overs.’ George Barna indicates that the typical church appropriates less than 3% for the youth in the budget while the youth make up approximately 11% of the membership. Churches have been saying to the youth, “You really don’t matter.” Is it any wonder that the youth are leaving the church in droves? Satan has certainly done his job of enticing them away. M.T.V., Hollywood and popular music captures their attention and grabs them. It is high dollar, loads of fun entertainment targeted directly towards them and in their face everywhere they turn. It’s a war for their hearts and minds and ultimately their soul.

Very few churches realize this and have done little to combat it. A few churches have attempted to do something…. Like build a gym. Ride by many of those churches today and those gyms sit empty 99% of the time. A good well intentioned idea, just not thought completely through.

But a few churches have gone on the offensive by providing youth programs designed to reach youth with more than just basketball. They are providing facilities that reach to the very heart of who youth are. Youth are extremely social beings. They like to congregate in small and large groups. This is how they feel accepted.

One such facility is Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. This facility is open, bright, entertaining and youthful. The youth leadership of the church wanted to provide a place where kids could go for clean social activities, get help with homework, and find acceptance seven days a week. The building was designed to answer all of these and more.

First, the main hall is large and open. Two story windows allow natural light to fill the central hall where a coffee shop with an improv stage, game area, and lounge are located. The glass windows also give a sense of invitation by providing passersby a tease of what is inside.

A wrap around mezzanine provides area for one on one conversation areas while not removing the small group from the overall space. The openness also allows the kids to be observed at all times while not providing feeling of an over – bearing ‘big brother’ effect. Even the staff offices have windows that look out over the room, thus providing the security needed for the parents.

Classrooms are outfitted for traditional Sunday School, however, they can be used during the week for after school tutorial instruction. The building also includes study areas with internet access to allow students to do homework. Two lecture hall/assembly rooms are equipped with a theatrical lighting and sound package that would make many churches envious. These features allow those spaces to be more than just a gathering for the group, but a place where the kids can perform dramas or even bring in a Christian band for a concert.

While all of these features appeal to the youth’s human and secular senses, the lay leadership mandated that everything be bathed in prayer and to be the central focus. That is why the prayer chapel is front and center in this building. It literally and figuratively is the cog for the entire building. Each kid passes this room to and from the rest of the campus. Except for the view window in the door it is a windowless room, save the skylight that draws your attention heavenward. 

Al Arrington, the chairman of the Building committee quotes the building as saying, “I am natural, open…. Stay here a while and learn about me, feel warm and comfortable and loved, and , by the way, while you are here, learn about the naturalness of loving God and His Son Jesus.”

While the facilities themselves don’t guarantee results, they do provide a springboard for new and innovative programs; programs that give youth a sense of belonging and value, and isn’t that what the gospel is all about.

Now not all churches have the budget or financial strength to provide a facility such as Eastside. But look around your church campus. Where do you have the youth? Is it in that old building out back that no one else wanted that is literally about to fall down? What could your church do to “fix it up” so it is a place the youth, and church, could be proud? Or is there a better place in your building that could be renovated, even if it is a couple of classrooms?

If you would like to tour Eastside’s facility, please give us a call and we’d be happy to arrange it.

Good Design Can Help Build Strong Youth Programs

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP
Jerry A. Fountain, Architect, AIA
Years ago it was highly unusual for a church building to be designed with the youth in mind. George Barna, the pollster, says that the typical church spent less than 3% on youth ministry while youth average 11% of the membership. Churches seemed to be saying to the youth, "You really don't matter." According to Lifeway Research, 96% of those born between 1977 and 1994 are unchurched and the drop out rate for this age group is increasing. The world is enticing them away and church leaders have finally realized that they are engaged in a war for the hearts and minds and ultimately the souls of young people.
In response to this challenge, more and more forward thinking churches are targeting this age group to try to stem the tide of young people leaving the church. Churches are going on the offense with programs designed to reach young people with more than just a basketball gym. Buildings alone do not make a youth ministry. It takes a dedicated active youth ministry with a designated space and programs to meet the spiritual and social needs of this age group.
Good architectural design is key to a facility that meets these needs. Churches are providing youth with multi-function spaces where they can just hang out with friends. Youth are extremely social beings. They like to congregate in both large and small groups. This is how they feel loved and accepted. These new youth spaces are very non traditional – often industrial feeling. They combine the features of the "shopping mall" with the old fashioned "soda shop" and the recreation center. Young people should not be isolated from the rest of the church. Wise youth leaders recognize that youth facilities should be part of the church's family ministry center where provision is made for all age groups, from children to senior adults. The youth are recognized for their special qualities and also their integral role they play in the church as a whole.
In larger churches, well designed youth assembly rooms are being equipped with multi media audio, video and lighting systems, with "state of the art" sound quality. Youth assembly spaces must be sound isolated from other areas. Many traditional churches have contemporary "youth worship" services on a weeknight to appeal to their style and still have traditional worship on Sunday for everyone to come together. Churches that have a contemporary style of worship will provide the same technology features in the youth assembly areas as their main worship center.
Food is never far from the minds of young people. A kitchen is often a key part of any well designed youth space. A sink, a refrigerator, microwave, and/or vending area may be all that is required. Or a full service kitchen and serving area may be part of a large church youth building.

Well designed youth areas will incorporate low maintenance materials and easy to clean, damage resistant surfaces. The traditional finished ceiling can be omitted and the exposed structure and mechanical components can be painted. These "no frills" youth areas should not cost more and, in fact, often cost less than traditional construction.
A well designed youth building should avoid hidden nooks and corners, without obvious attempts to provide ways for adult leaders to keep an "eye" on the youth. If classrooms or other small assembly spaces are included, provision should be made to lock off access except when they are needed. Youth need conversation areas, with informal furnishings. An improv stage can be included in multi-purpose areas, allowing these areas to be used for assembly.

Recreation areas for youth in many churches include space for group sports like basketball and volleyball as well as table top games, billiards and even computer games. Some churches are including rock climbing walls and indoor or outdoor skateboard areas. Smaller churches that do not have the luxury of dedicated youth buildings need to plan regular events and activities for youth, either at the church or use available community recreation centers. Even churches on very tight budgets should at least have a special room designed around the needs of this age group.

A good example of a well thought out youth facility is our design for the Student Center at Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. This addition to Eastside's Christian Life Center was designed to serve the youth of this 4,000 member suburban Atlanta church. It includes a large "commons area" with a lounge, game room and coffee shop. The coffee shop is furnished with booths made from recycled school bus seats. The room is featured with exposed structure / fabric air conditioning ducts, a ramp connecting two levels and accent walls painted bold colors. Assembly rooms, one for middle schoolers and one for high schoolers each have state of the art audio, video and lighting systems. For more about Eastside Baptist Church, visit

The Space Utilization Assessment

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP

Does your church need a space utilization check-up?  Is your church short of classroom space?  Are you “maxed out” in Sunday Bible Study and children’s classes?  Sometimes church pastors and building committees become convinced they need more education space and feel the only solution is to begin a building expansion program.  However, in many cases, we find these churches have space available they did not know they had.  It is better to make full use of all available space before rushing into a building expansion.  A Space Utilization Assessment, a type of facility check up, is a valuable tool to help determine how best to maximize the space you already have.

In a growing church, lack of educational space, or even the appearance of lack of space, may become a major hindrance to continued growth.  A building expansion can take years to plan, fund, and construct.  If growth is to continue during this time, a church will need to do everything possible to take advantage of all available space.  The Space Utilization Assessment will point out ways to better use existing space by reassigning classrooms based on class attendance patterns.  It can also help identify other available space that can be used for temporary classrooms.
Some churches can do this type of space “check up” in house, using church staff and volunteers.  But many larger churches will need professional assistance from an experienced architect or help from their denomination.  The following is a brief outline of the seven basic steps needed to complete a classroom space assessment:

  1.  It is essential to have accurate floor plans of the entire facility.  The plans should be “to scale,” meaning they can be accurately measured with an architectural scale to determine room sizes.  If you do not have (or cannot find) your building floor plans, you will need to measure each room and prepare an “as-built” floor plan.  An architect can field measure your building and provide accurate as-built drawings. Be sure to include the fellowship hall and gymnasium.

  2. With accurate floor plans and room dimensions, calculate the area of each useable classroom.  Room square footage is a valuable tool for determining how many people can be comfortably accommodated in each space.  Label each classroom on the plan and show the room square footage.  For children’s classrooms, do not include toilets or the space taken by cabinets or storage.

  3. Hopefully, your church has kept class attendance records throughout the year.  These valuable attendance records will now come in handy.  Determine the average attendance and the highest attendance for each class for the past year.  These two numbers are important.

  4. List each classroom by age group on a spreadsheet showing class designation and description, current average attendance, highest attendance, and the square footage of the room in which the class meets.  Include a column labeled “Room Capacity” and a column labeled “Comfort Capacity.”  Generally, “Comfort Capacity” is 75% to 80% of room capacity. 

  5. The following are our recommendations for ideal maximum room capacity (high attendance) based on age group:

    1. Bed Babies through kindergarten                                30 square feet / child

    2. Grade school                                                               25 square feet / child

    3. Middle, High School, & College                                 20 square feet / person

    4. Adults                                                                          15 square feet / person
  6. Large seminar rooms for youth and adults will have a somewhat better per square foot room capacity than smaller rooms.  For spaces over 400 square feet we recommend a room capacity of 15 square feet per person for high school/college and 12 square feet per person for adults.  The capacity of long narrow rooms and “L” shaped rooms should be adjusted by deducting the unusable part of the room from the room area.  Do not use “code capacity” numbers sometimes shown on plans for assembly and educational occupancy.  This is a completely different number used by code officials to verify adequate exit capacity for life safety and fire code compliance.

  7. Review each space to compare actual attendance with the room’s capacity and comfort capacity.  In a typical church most classrooms are being utilized below comfort capacity, except perhaps a few Sundays each year.  Some churches have several classes that have grown and are reaching 80% of capacity every Sunday and may be at or above maximum capacity more than twice a year.  These classes need your immediate attention.  Find a bigger room for these classes or split them into smaller classes if the additional classroom space is available.  Likewise, some classes that are well below room comfort capacity should be moved to smaller rooms.  It is not a matter of creating new space as much as making better use of the space you have so the most crowded classes have room to grow.
Classes should never be allowed to “own” a classroom. Everyone should be willing to make the changes necessary for the good of the church. However, most churches try to keep certain age groups together in one section of the facility.  If possible, preschool and children’s classrooms should remain in close proximity to one another and not be scattered around the building. 

Example of Space Utilization Spreadsheet

In this example, Grade 5 is overcrowded.  Grade 5 could swap rooms with Adult A.  However, relocating Grade 5 to Room 103 would be even more efficient. But then another room with at least 225 square feet will need to be found for Adult B.  Perhaps another children’s class that is meeting in a larger but not over crowded room could swap with Grade 5, allowing them to remain in the same area.

An architect experienced in church design or an expert from your denomination will know how to conduct a space utilization assessment.  The advantage to using an outside service includes the fact that that their recommendations will be from a fresh and unbiased viewpoint.  Shifting classes around to classrooms appropriately sized for actual attendance should provide a growing church more room for growth and time to plan and build the needed expansion.  Begin planning for expansion well before much of your space reaches the 80% of capacity.  At that point, lack of space will begin to hinder further growth.


There are other ways to find space for crowded classes. A growing church that is not already using its gym or fellowship hall can purchase or build portable walls to turn large open rooms into temporary classrooms.  These wall panels can be configured many different ways and moved out of the way for activities requiring the large open room.

Portable Partitions used in a Gym  
A church with adequate worship capacity and inadequate classroom capacity may need to consider two teaching hours with the worship hour in between.  A growing church, one with sufficient parking but desperate for both worship and classroom space, should consider having two worship services with two simultaneous teaching hours.  Other creative ways to solve space shortages include use of portable modular classrooms and having classes meet in member’s homes.  Many churches have adopted the home cell group concept and avoided the expense of larger classroom buildings.  Shifting classes around or conducting multiple events may seem traumatic to some church members. If the church is to grow, the leadership must be sensitive and clearly explain the reason for the changes.  Everyone should be “on board” for the good of the entire church.

Some church facilities built prior to 1970 have many small classrooms, especially in children’s departments. Current teaching philosophy and today’s culture require larger classes and larger classrooms.  It may be time to remove walls between these small rooms to create larger, more useful classrooms.  Before proceeding, have an experienced architect or engineer look at any such renovations for structural integrity issues and conformance with the building codes.  Even removing a few walls will require a proper building permit.

If a space utilization assessment reveals your church has an apparent shortage of space, first seek professional or denominational help to identify creative solutions to your space needs.  Reassign classrooms based on actual class size and explore other options such as two Bible Study hours or home based small groups.  Since maximizing use of existing space is much less costly than building new space, explore all possible alternatives before rushing into a building program.  If you become certain of the need to build, start planning far enough in advance so that growth is not hindered by lack of space. Reallocation of classroom space and taking other creative measures will permit continued growth while buying you time to properly plan and raise funds for the needed expansion project.  A space utilization assessment and expert professional assistance will help you make more efficient use of the space you already have.  

Bob Foreman is senior principal at Foreman Seeley Fountain Architecture, an Atlanta firm specializing in the design of church and school facilities. Bob is a member of the American Institute of Architects and is a LEED Accredited Professional.

Timeline for a Building Project

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP


If you are not regularly involved with construction, you might not realize how much time it takes for a project to work its way through the process of site selection, design, permit review, pricing and construction.  The following chart is a guideline which is intended to suggest common times required to get a typical new building completed.

The time required for some steps is essentially the same no matter the location.  However, in metro areas, some permitting and code review can take much longer compared to smaller cities or rural areas.  Total project time in metro areas can take many more months than outside the metro areas.

From the time you begin your first steps, a typical project can take two and a half to three years to complete.  Construction time will depend on building size and complexity and the Contractor performing the work.

Don't wait until the last minute to start the process.  Your Architect should help you come up with a reasonable schedule based on your situation.  Every project is different.  It would not be unusual for a project to take more time due to problems in site acquisition, zoning, site engineering, or weather during construction.

For more information on the detailed steps in a building project, see Steps in A Building Project.

Sunday School Spaces - Is Your Sunday School Really Out of Space?

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP


Are your Sunday School teachers telling you that their classrooms are "maxed out".  Are you certain that you have a problem?  There are guidelines for space utilization which are generally accepted as the "rules" for capacity for various age groups.  "Capacity" is defined as the maximum number of people that will comfortably fill a meeting space so that there is little or no room left to add any more people.  As you add more people above capacity, it becomes very difficult to achieve the objectives which you have for that space.  There is a cultural factor to the capacity of space with some cultures feeling more comfortable with more people and some feeling less comfortable.  However the biggest factor is age group, with the following guidelines for each age grouping:  

Babies through 5 year olds - 25 to 35 square feet per child and 12 square feet for each adult worker. 

First grade through fifth grade - 25 square feet per child and 12 square feet for each adult worker.  Assembly rooms used for short periods of time can have around 12 to 15 square feet per child. 

Middle School and High School Youth need about 15 square feet per person in smaller classroom groups with less space being needed for larger assembly groups (over 20 persons).

College age and most adults can do fine at 12 square feet per person. Anything less than 10 square feet per person will seem crowded. 

Senior Adults (age 60 and above) often express dissatisfaction when spaces are filled at a ratio of 15 square feet per person or less. They want a little more room.

To determine if a classroom has reached capacity, measure each classroom, excluding built-in cabinets, shelves, etc. and calculate the area in square feet. Average the high attendance for each month during the past year and divide that number into the room area. For an additional verification, take the maximum attendance for any Sunday during the last year and divide that number into the room area. If the average high attendance of the year exceeds the room capacity (room area divided by rule of thumb area per person) by more than 15%, then you really are out of space in that room. Also, anytime a space reaches 80% of capacity, people will start to feel crowded and will feel that more space is needed. When you are regularly exceeding 80% of capacity in many of your Sunday School rooms, it is past time to start planning for more space.

In rapidly growing churches, when attendance starts to exceed 70% of capacity, planning for more space should already be well underway. By the time new space is ready, you may already exceed capacity in many departments. If you fail to begin planning soon enough, by the time you have reached capacity, your growth will have slowed to a stop.

Steps in a Building Project - A Guideline through the Building Process for Churches

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP


     1.    Identify property and building inadequacies.

          a.   List general inadequacies.
          b.   Review list of inadequacies with key program leaders.

     2.   Secure outside help.

          a.   Request help from denomination, association or diocese.
          b.   Obtain published guidebooks for help in organizing and planning.

     3.   Secure church action to appoint a Survey, Planning and Building Committee.

          a.   Report property and building inadequacies to the church.
          b.   Ask for approval to structure a Survey, Planning and Building Committee to begin

          a study that is directed at the church taking actions to meet property and building

     4.   Organize and educate committee

          a.   Appoint building project steering committee (7 to 10 members).
          b.   Appoint three to five or more members on each subcommittee.
          c.   Educate committee on process using guidebooks or materials obtained from


     5.   Explore community needs to discover church opportunities.

          a.   Survey community.
          b.   Determine specific needs of persons in the community.
          c.   Define church’s mission.
          d.   Determine number of persons who might be reached in each program.
          e.   Begin site selection process if property is not owned.

     6.   Select an Architect

          a.   Gather list of architects
          b.   Interview, review experience, call references.
          c.   Select Architect.

     7.   Develop a comprehensive program

          a.   Define and prepare a written statement of programs to be provided  by the
          b.   Ascertain number of people for which space will be provided in each church

          c.    Architect to participate in program development.

     8.   Site selection

          a.   Evaluate suitability and location of existing property.
          b.   If moving or acquiring property for first unit, determine where church needs to be

          located in the community.
          c.   Determine amount of property needed.  Minimum 5 acre site.  Allow 100 people

          per usable acre.
          d.   Architect should participate in site selection and evaluation.  Do not purchase the

          property until it is certain that it will be adequate for church needs.

     9.    Topographic / Boundary Survey of Site

     10.  Architect authorized to prepare Master Site Plan.

     11.   Prepare financial plan

          a.   Review past and present financial performance.
          b.   Make initial contact with sources of help regarding a fund-raising campaign.
          c.   Project amount of money to be raised in an intensive fund-raising campaign.
          d.   Investigate sources for borrowing funds, and potential amounts available.
          e.   Secure tentative loan commitments.
          f.    Determine maximum funds which can be made available for a building project.

     12.    Complete the property purchase, if not already owned.

     13.    Architect or church to secure services of a civil engineer.

     14.    Architect authorized to prepare Schematic Building Plans.

     15.    Church to begin contractor selection.

     16.    Master Site Plan to be submitted to local planning and zoning, if necessary.

     17.    Report to church and secure church decision/begin fund raising

          a.   Report findings and recommendations to church.
                i.     Program needs for which space will be provided.
                ii.    Site Master Plan and Schematic Building Design.
                iii.   Estimated project cost.
                iv.   Means and source of financing project.
                v.    Growth and other results anticipated.
          b.   Secure church action on:
                i.    Type and amount of space to be constructed.
                ii.   Acquisition of any properties needed.
                iii.  Proceeding with final drawings.
                iv.  Financing plan for the project.
                v.   Begin fund raising.
                vi.  Approval of Contractor selection.

     18.   Architect and engineers to proceed with design drawings for the building
             and site.

          a.   Authorize architect to prepare floor plans and cost estimates.
          b.   Present plans and cost estimates to church for approval.
          c.   Contractor to provide design and cost input.

     19.   Architect and Engineers to proceed with final detailed Construction

          a.    Architect and Engineers to incorporate church design input.
          b.    Contractor to provide design and cost input.
          c.     Report to church when plans are completed and approved by committee.

     20.    Submit plans to various local and state authorities for review and approval.

          a.   Local City / County Development Department and Building Department.
          b.   State Fire Marshal.
          c.   Architect to meet with local and state plan review personnel to coordinate plan

          review and approval process and satisfy plan review comments.

     21.    Contractor to prepare final pricing or job is put out for bids.

     22.    Architect to obtain final approval of plans from local and state authorities.

     23.    Church to finalize financing arrangements.

     24.    Church to approve construction price - sign contract - provide notice to proceed to
     general Contractor.

     25.    Contractor to obtain building permit and begin construction.  This time is 6 to 12
     months for most projects.  Large projects may take 18 months or more.

     26.    Begin organizational enlargement and leadership training simultaneously with
     beginning construction.

          a.   Enlist new workers for enlarged organization.
          b.   Inaugurate an aggressive and intensive training program for present and new

          c.   Design a "saturation" visitation program to be implemented immediately prior to

          occupancy of the new building.

     27.    Church to order furniture and other equipment not included on General Contract
     (sound system, pews, kitchen equipment, operable walls, etc.).

     28.    Church to anticipate completion date- schedule and plan for dedication service six
     to ten weeks after occupancy.

     29.    Construction substantially complete.  Begin to furnish and equip the building.
     Heating / cooling system must be operational.  Inspect furniture and test equipment.

     30.    Occupy and begin using facility only after all work is complete, building has been
     declared complete by the architect and local authorities have granted "certificate of

     31.   One to two month "shakedown" period begins.

          a.   Defects are found and corrected.
          b.   Adjustments are made to air conditioning, electrical systems sound systems and

          "bugs" worked out.
          c.   Final payment made to contractor

     32.    Dedication Service - should never be planned for the first Sunday of Occupancy.
     Allow time for proper planning, last minute work and final adjustments.

     33.    Evaluation at the one year anniversary of completion to make a list of items that
     need attention prior to expiration of the one year warranty period.

How to Select and Organize the Church Building Steering Committee

By Robert C. Foreman, Architect, AIA, LEED AP
For a successful building project it is important for the church to have the right people in charge of the project.  The Building Steering Committee is the group of church members who act on behalf of the church leadership and congregation to guide the project through the programming, budgeting, design, and construction process.  They are one component of the Church Building Team which includes the church, the Architect, and the Contractor.  The Steering Committee oversees and directs the work of the Church Building Team.
How should the church go about choosing the right people to serve on the Steering Committee?  While some churches will choose a special group of lay persons, others will use elders, pastors, or staff members.  Many will use both laymen and pastors.  It partly depends on how your church is governed.  It is not a committee that should be chosen by a nominating committee because they will often select people who are their friends and those they think are most familiar with construction and design.  The wrong people selecting the committee will result in the wrong committee.  Instead of a committee selecting a committee, the Steering Committee should be selected by the pastor or the top leadership of the congregation.  At least one or more staff members such as the pastor, executive pastor, church administrator, or facilities director should serve on the committee.  The persons selected should be selected based on strict qualifications and should meet the approval of the church leadership.
The Steering Committee should consist of people of high integrity and spiritual maturity.  They must be fully committed to the church and 100% behind the “vision” of the pastor.  They should get along well with others and work well together in a group.  They must be reliable people who will show up for meetings. They must be excellent listeners and have the wisdom to make the right decisions.  The Steering Committee is no place for “my way or else” type personalities. 
When asking people to serve, be certain they have a clear understanding of the responsibility and authority they will be given, and that they will be expected to suppress their own desires in favor of the good of the entire church congregation.  They must understand they are committing to serve until the job is finished and that this could be a period of several years.  The length of time will depend on factors that are not always under their complete control.  There are only two acceptable excuses for leaving the committee:  (1) their death (or severe long term illness) and (2) job transfer to another city.  This is not an assignment one can quit because they get tired of it or things do not go their way.  However, it would be better for someone who comes to disagree with the direction of the project to resign rather than hinder the work of the committee.
The pastor or leadership group that chooses the Steering Committee should also select the chairman and appoint each member to specific tasks as sub-committee leaders.  The Steering Committee is a leadership team that will work together for a common goal and vision.  To function well, it should not be too large.  An ideal Steering Committee size should be between five and seven people.  A group of more than nine will become bogged down and find it impossible to get things accomplished. Churches with congregations under 500 should have no more than five on their Steering Committee. Churches with over 500 active members can have a seven member Steering Committee. Nine member Steering Committees should only be necessary for the mega church and often times the mega churches are pastor or elder led and they may not be willing to trust a Steering Committee of church members. In the larger churches, the Steering Committee and the church governing board are often one and the same.
The Steering Committee should be made up of church leaders who somewhat reflect the entire church membership.  They should be a cross section of the church but it is not necessary to try to have a representative from each age group or interest group.  The entire church should pray for the selection process and that it will be God inspired. It would be a serious mistake to appoint anyone because they are good friends with the pastor or because it is thought they might be a big contributor.  It would be a serious mistake to appoint someone just because they work in a specific profession or industry. Members ought to be appointed for their integrity and leadership qualities, not their contributions or their vocation.  Unless the church is fairly small, the wise pastor will limit his involvement in the process.  He will concentrate his efforts on setting the overall vision for the project and on being the pastor and spiritual leader of the congregation. Pastors who get too involved in the planning and building process may neglect their pastoral responsibilities.
The organization of the Steering Committee should be based on the sub-committee concept.  Except for the chairman, each steering committee member serves as the leader of a specific sub-committee.  Except for the sub-committee leaders, sub-committee members are not voting members of the Steering Committee and generally attend Steering Committee meetings only when invited.  The members of the sub-committees each meet with their respective sub-committee leader to work out details and decide on recommendations, which their sub-committee leader will then present to the rest of the Steering Committee for ratification.  The Steering Committee should be able to override, revise or rework any sub-committee recommendation. The Steering Committee has final control and nothing should ever by-pass this group.  Depending how the church is governed, only the congregation or leadership board can override the Steering Committee. The following is an outline of the function of each Steering Committee member and the duties of each of their respective sub-committees: 
  1. The Chairman should be a key church leader who works well with a diverse group and who can guide the Steering Committee organizationally and spiritually.  The Chairman always must see the “big picture” and be willing to leave the details to others.  He must be totally committed to the pastor’s vision and to the tasks that need to be completed.
  2. The Secretary should be a detail oriented person and an organized record keeper.  The secretary can be a non-voting member if there is an even number on the Steering Committee.  The Secretary could be the voting sub-committee leader of the Prayer and Publicity Sub-committee, when there is a larger Steering Committee.
  3. The Program and Design Sub-committee will likely be the largest sub-committee.  It will consist of the leader, who is on the Steering Committee, and up to ten members, depending on project size and complexity.  This group’s primary responsibility will be working with church staff and the architect to determine the project program and design.  They will coordinate with the Finance Sub-committee to balance the program with the budget.  This group will present the program and the schematic design to the Steering Committee for approval, after which the Steering Committee will take it before the entire church.  Depending on project size and scope, sub groups possible under the Program and Design Sub-committee include (1) Worship Center, (2) Fellowship Hall and Kitchen, (3) Administration Offices and Music Suite, (4) Education Classrooms and Media Center, (5) Site - Parking - Landscaping, and (6) Interior Design and Furnishings.
  4. The Construction Sub-committee acts as technical advisors to the Program and Design Sub-committee during design and goes into full action once construction gets started.  The Construction Sub-committee leader may be appointed to act as the main point of contact between the Steering Committee and the architect and contractor during construction.  Only three to five members are needed and it is good if some of them are familiar with the construction process.  The leader and members should be familiar with construction, understand how to communicate with architects and contractors and be available to meet on the job site during construction.
  5. The Finance Sub-committee should be a group of three to five people who understand what the church is capable of doing from a financial standpoint. They will be a financial advisory group to advise the Steering Committee and help establish the project budget.  If there is to be a loan, they will be responsible for selecting the lender and arranging the loan.  For smaller Steering Committees, they can also be responsible for fund raising and working with a Capital Stewardship consultant. Ideally, the leader should be familiar with banking, finance, or accounting.
  6. The Prayer and Publicity Sub-committee will consist of three to five people to will help organize church wide prayer for the Building Team as well as publicize plans to build and keep the congregation informed along the way.  This sub-committee will be responsible for preparing a brochure or other material (DVD, PowerPoint, video, etc.) to fully inform the congregation at appropriate times.  At certain times, information may be released to the press or other media outlets.  The church web page can be used to update membership on the planning and building progress.  Smaller Steering Committees may combine these functions with the duties of the Steering Committee Secretary, with a small sub-committee to help.
  7. If a larger Steering Team is needed, then Fund Raising can be a separate sub-committee from the Finance Sub-committee.  The Fund Raising Sub-committee will help select and work with a professional fund raising organization which will assist the church in conducting a church wide capitol stewardship campaign.  This sub-committee will be involved with promoting the campaign and asking church members for pledges to the Building Fund.
While the Steering Committee will consist of five to seven people, using the sub-committee concept, the total church membership involvement may be 15 to 30 people.  To involve more people and spread the workload, additional sub-committees or temporary work groups, not necessarily part of the Steering Committee, could be appointed and may include the following:
Interior Design – Normally included in the duties of the Program and Design Sub-committee, some projects will need a separate interiors group to work with the architect or interior designer on color and finish selections, and any special design features such as stained glass, special art or sculpture, pews and altar furniture.  The Interior Design group should be kept small, never more than a group of three people. A group of more than three will be too many to get things accomplished.
Church Growth – This group could be appointed early to explore growth potential in the community and help determine projections of future church growth.  They could also help plan and promote outreach and evangelism during the planning and construction.
Property Acquisition – This temporary group will deal with obtaining new property and could be disbanded once property has been purchased.  They may need to remain active as long as there are any land use or zoning issues to resolve.  It is better to deal with land use issues before completing the property purchase. This group is very critical if relocation is involved.
Move-In and Dedication – Depending on project size, moving in and dedication can be a major task.  If relocation of the church is involved, this can be an enormous job.  Planning must begin many months in advance of the actual move-in date.  This group will deal with professional movers, special events, reception or dedication service, guest speakers, VIP guests, and many last minute arrangements.  While the Program and Design sub-committee could handle this responsibility, it may be best if it were organized as a separate entity from the Steering Committee.  It is always great to celebrate completion of a new facility and recognize the hard work of those who participated in helping achieve the final result.
One member of the Steering Committee should be appointed to serve as the single point of contact with the other members of the Building Team, the architect and the contractor.  Ideally, this point of contact should be the chairman, or a staff member on the Steering Committee.  As construction is about to begin, this responsibility could be transferred to the Construction Sub-committee chair.  Under no circumstance, except an emergency, should anyone who is not the designated point of contact engage the architect or contractor in direct substantive conversation about the project, unless the designated point of contact is present or directly involved.  All phone calls, emails and other forms of communications should flow through the designated contact person.  This is a proven system and will help avoid misunderstandings. Written instructions, written interpretations of phone discussions and minutes of every meeting are all excellent ways to facilitate communications and avoid misunderstandings.
Assembling the right group of church leaders on the Steering Committee and using the sub-committee concept will result in a successful building project that will meet the facility needs of the entire church. The single point of contact system and good communication policy will help things run smoothly between the church and other members of the Church Building Team.