How Much Church Is Too Much?

Weighing your church's vision for growth with realistic planning.
One of the most exciting times in the life of a church is when God imparts the vision for designing and constructing a new facility. This vision, I believe, is given by God to the pastor; with it there is life, and with that life there is growth. Effectively executing the vision, however, requires realistic and strategic planning. For this, three elements are vital: people, places and provisions.

People. Select a qualified project coordinator-developer from within the congregation or from an outside commercial source. This person should be supported by a small group from the congregation to help develop a "program of requirements" that lists the needs and desires of the congregation related to the new facility. Assemble a team of building professionals, including an architect and a construction manager or a general contractor, that is experienced in the design and construction of projects similar to the one being planned. Involving a construction manager or a general contractor early on will help you during the design process to obtain the best value for your goods and services, and to estimate costs realistically.

Places. Selecting an adequate site and well-located property is essential. To determine the right property size, keep in mind:

  • One acre supports 150 to 200 seats in an auditorium.
  • One acre parks approximately 100 cars.
  • One parking space is needed for every two-and-a-half to three auditorium seats.

    Based on this, if the planned auditorium will have 1,200 seats, then about six to eight acres of developable property will be needed. Of that, four to five acres will be needed to provide parking for an estimated 400 to 480 cars. (This will vary with local code and zoning requirements.) Additional parking will be required if multiple services overlap with other meetings.

    Determining a facility's size is of utmost importance. The following guidelines are suggested:

  • An auditorium's size should allow for continued growth of the fellowship. Plan for two to three times the current maximum attendance. The auditorium as well as lobbies, restrooms and other support areas will use 15 to 25 square feet per seat. Therefore, with a current attendance of 480 people, the facility should be 24,000 square feet and provide 1,200 seats.
  • The children's areas, youth and adult classrooms, church offices, gym, chapel, café, bookstore, fellowship hall and so on will be at least equal to or twice the area of the auditorium. Thus, the total area of the facility with 1,200 seats will be 48,000 to 72,000 square feet.

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    Provisions. The costs of the facility are usually divided into the following categories:

    1. Construction cost. This includes all site work, parking lots and driveways, materials and labor. Local construction costs and methods of construction will determine this, but the basic cost generally ranges from $120 to $180 a square foot. If the site conditions are challenging, or if high-end interior finishes are selected, the cost can exceed $200 per square foot.

    2. Cost of furniture, fixtures and equipment. This includes seating, furnishings, audio, video, theatrical or other special lighting, signs, landscaping and irrigation, telephones, security and IT systems, and any other special equipment required. The estimate for these items is calculated as being 25 percent to 50 percent of the total construction cost.

    3. Professional fees. Including architectural drawings; mechanical, electrical and plumbing; structural and civil engineering; interior design; and others, these costs range from about 8 percent to 12 percent of the construction cost.

    4. Soft costs. Payments for financing, land development and city-county development fees, these vary project to project.

    Remember, nothing can stop a task God directs. Psalm 127:1 ("Unless the Lord builds ...") is the true bottom line.

    Clarence Shaw is an architect who has specialized in the design and construction of churches for more than 25 years.
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