Assemblies of God SearchSite GuideStoreContact Us
Evangelism, Worship, Discipleship & Compassion


From Belonging to Becoming: What if we put belonging first like Jesus did?

By: Mike Clarensau

Item # 50TW0114

Price:  $19.99


You Might Also Like

Videos (AGTV)

Master Planning New Church Facilities

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 3:38 PM CST


With careful planning moving into new church facilities can be a dream come true, an exciting time, and a rewarding experience. This is the first of a two-part article that gives a general overview and guidance in the implementation of planning new church facilities. The focus is on new site properties and new sanctuary facilities for all church sizes. Many of the principles presented, however, can be applicable to churches that are interested in (1) expansion, (2) renovation of the existing sanctuary, (3) ancillary facilities, and (4) starting from the beginning at site selection.

A good starting point is to assume that the new church-site property is already purchased. The legal, environmental, survey, and geotechnical aspects are also assumed to be completed, and the site is legally cleared for design and construction. The planning process should lend itself to being flexible so that decisions already made do not become barriers. Skillful planning can accommodate varied church sizes and budgets for a given property.

The church must have a formal vision, mission program, and statement which feed the entire expansion process. Have these written and made public. The congregation, board, and pastor must be committed to them.


Getting started requires the formation of a facilities team within the church. This can be structured several ways, depending on church size: an independent committee reporting to the board; a subcommittee or adjunct to the board; or actually integral with the board.

1. Organize. Here the church administration faces its first real test and opportunity to demonstrate clearly its understanding of implementing the planning and design process. This creates a structure for steering, monitoring, and driving the effort. Assemble the team. If it is apart from the board, limit size to about six. The pastor should be an ex officio member. A board member, associate pastor, or pastoral staff member should be invited. Include other available team members within the church who have backgrounds in financial planning, design, construction, marketing, and real estate. Appoint a chairperson or facilitator—a strong leader is essential. Establish a priority schedule for meetings on a regular basis and develop an action plan with given assignments to each team member.

2. Assess. In light of the vision and mission of the church, the team should assess the current problems and needs and have a clear understanding of the issues, goals, and why the church needs to plan for a new facility. An outside financial planner, who has unbiased opinions and is experienced in church construction financing, should be considered to help guide and coach the team.

3. Plan. This is twofold: (1) To prepare request for proposals to hire a design professional who will help the team define the specific scope of work and plan the administrative work required and (2) to start the actual planning process with the design professional. Problem-solving techniques using training and management tools can be helpful to identify action items according to the church’s mission statement. To achieve the ultimate goal of occupancy of the new facility, develop a road map or plan for each step of the process.


The planning and design effort will require services of licensed design professionals. This is required by law, and the license to practice is to be in the state where the project is located. The design professional is also called the prime consultant. He has principal contact with the church and is held responsible for the performance of the design and planning stages of the project, including what is to be performed by others. For purposes of this article and type facility, an architect is better suited and is assumed to be the prime consultant.

A typical makeup of the design team for planning and design is the architect and subconsultants for civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical—each licensed in a particular discipline. Depending on the complexity of the church design, other subconsultants—such as sound/acoustical specialists, interior designer, and landscape architects—would be hired but through the prime consultant. The church facilities team will ultimately be charged with coordination of the work of these professionals.

Solicit technical qualifications and proposals from two or three prospective prime consultants—to be judged on experience in church design, professional credentials, integrity, record of performance, and technical competence. Based on a comparative analysis and subject to negotiation of a fair price, evaluate each proposal as to the best qualified. Once you select the design firm, have a written contract agreement. Highly credible contracts, which often work best, are the national American Institute of Architects (AIA) or Engineers Joint Contract Document Committee (EJCDC) agreements. These define and document the general services to be performed and should be reviewed by the church’s attorney.

On the contract list every service connected with the project. A detailed contract agreement will avoid misunderstandings with the architect and explain how the church’s money will be spent.

Specify that the architect should provide a minimum of professional liability insurance, which is effective on the work's starting date. Your church insurance carrier can advise on the limit; for example, on multimillion-dollar projects, the norm is a minimum of $2 million; for construction costing less than $2 million, limits should be equivalent to about the total construction cost value. The professional liability insurance costs should be included as part of the basic services fees. Your carrier should also be able to advise on the general liability insurance that a typical owner must provide for the construction.


These are two distinct categories of basic services typically provided by the architect and subconsultant.

1. Planning includes studies and master plans which display concepts graphically and report data in a logical way, broken down in distinct construction phases. Its goals are to provide guidelines for immediate and future development, which can satisfy short- and long-range needs in a feasible way. Typically, activities include facilities programming requirements, design studies, data collection, inventories, schedules, budget cost programming, design alternatives, energy studies, drawings, and reports, which include site and facility layout plans. Financial planning is an important element here. Architectural renderings and/or scale models are usually additional services and costs.

2. Design includes the basic services normally performed for development of the actual design documents for construction of the new facility. The services are usually conducted in two distinct and sequential phases: (1) Preliminary phase involves the activities required for defining the project requirements, finance, schedules, agencies, and parties on matters affecting the project’s aesthetic considerations, layouts, and probable construction cost. (2) Final design phase involves the activities required to undertake the project’s design, which includes meetings, analysis and design, final legal drawings, specifications, and more detailed opinions of probable construction cost.


The trend in new designs is simple and efficient: smaller, smarter, cozier surroundings; extremely open to the public; and totally accessible to all walks of life—right from the street and with capacities more fitting with the church attendance but with provisions for future expansion. The new high-tech amenities are a mainstay with total handicap accessibility. The image the new church facility portrays to the community is all-important and must continue to create excitement in wanting people to come back for more—to be an enhancement, not a detriment to the membership and the community. Hence the planning and design should attack these issues and develop cost-effective solutions. Specific elements that are critical, regardless of size of church, include:

1. Affordability. How does the church know what it can or cannot afford? Careful planning looks at this issue by dealing with statistics, financial planning, and forecasts in addition to dealing with the physical space planning and the given physical needs. It is aimed at solving typical problems, with emphasis on certain elements that depend on the specific church. One of the architect’s primary responsibilities is to work with the church in planning a facility to fit within budget limits. Once this is agreed, the church should submit this in writing as part of the contract for design.

2. Existing precedent. Talk to other churches in similar situations, ask about their operations, costs, the good and bad experiences, and lessons learned working with the architect and contractor.

3. Demand and forecasts. How large to design the facility to accommodate future growth is a key item. Size is related directly to affordability. It is one of the most difficult items to define. Growth should be defined in short-range, intermediate-range, and long-range time frames. Certainly, update these on a continual basis. While 20-year periods are targeted for the long range, a 10-year intermediate period is a reasonable target and a 5-year forecast for short term.

4. Seismic events. By law the national building codes require that new church facilities (public facilities) be designed for earthquakes if the new facility site is located in an active region. Cost for this compliance depends upon the magnitude of the seismic requirements for a given region. Generally, this adds from 5 to 15 percent to the construction cost and design fees. This requirement should be confirmed up front in the planning.


The design/build construction method is a process by which a church contracts directly with one entity to provide both the design and the completed construction product. The architect is the designer and contractor or construction manager. The subcontractors are the builders. A spin-off arrangement of this method involves the architect and builder working for a third-party developer who holds the contract to complete the facility. If a church chooses to use this process, selection of the design/build team should be based on objective criteria that evaluates the qualifications and competence of the team—not price. Fee budgets are then negotiated with the best qualified team. The design/build method is becoming more popular for church facilities construction.

In the traditional method, the architect is selected. Then design and contract documents are produced and released for either public or private selected bidding by independent contractors. Construction is awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.

Although church facilities are considered public assembly, churches are not bound by public bidding laws in their selection of a contractor. If private bidding is used, the church solicits a minimum of three bids from qualified contractors experienced in church facilities construction. The low bidder does not necessarily receive the contract. Another option regarding contractor selection is to negotiate with a single contractor. For this to be an acceptable method, the church must see firsthand the contractor’s demonstrated qualifications and performance on prior or current church facilities. In either case, the architect can assist the church in selecting the contractor.


Construction cost is the cost paid to the contractor to build and deliver to the church, according to the architect’s design documents, a completed facility. Principal components are: (1) facilities cost, (2) site-work cost, (3) seating cost, and (4) contractor’s overhead, and profit. Site-work cost includes parking lots, utilities, storm water, and landscape. Construction cost usually excludes the following costs: property acquisition, site testing, structure demolition, site clearing, and furnishings.

Facilities cost is based on costs per square foot. According to R.S. Means Company, national average values range from about $70 per square foot for a 42,000 square-foot facility to about $100 per square foot for a 3,000 square-foot facility, excluding basements and site work. Costs can vary as much as +40 percent and –20 percent depending on location. Actual costs are dependent upon the size and complexity of the design.

For initial planning, facilities cost apportionment can be estimated as follows: foundations, 8 percent; slab floor, 3 percent; superstructure, 17 percent; exterior, 22 percent; roofing, 4 percent; interior, 15 percent; mechanical, 22 percent; and electrical, 9 percent.

Site-work cost is usually 10 to 20 percent of the facilities cost, excluding landscaping. Landscaping can be added after construction but should be factored into the planning and designing process.

For planning purposes, seating costs run approximately $155 per seat depending on amenities. Seating can be added later after facility construction but must be considered in the planning and designing stage.

Contractor overhead and profit costs are approximately 15 percent of construction cost. The following table shows the magnitude of new sanctuary facility construction cost including seating and excluding contingencies:

Sanctuary Capacity1

Floor Space

Probable Construction Cost

100 seat

2,000 sq. ft.

$ 276,000

500 seat

12,000 sq. ft.


1,250 seat

24,000 sq. ft.


2,000 seat

42,000 sq. ft.


5,000 seat

90,000 sq. ft.


Church volunteer labor or owner-supplied materials can reduce construction cost. These details must be defined in the agreement and specifications.


Professional fees are paid to the architect and the subconsultants. Total project costs including these fees, expenses, and construction cost, are the sum of all the direct and indirect costs related to the design and construction of the facility. Lump sum professional fees are the most popular, although a combination of hourly fee types (both with and without a maximum value) are used. Percent of construction cost is used for professional fees but less frequently. The contract agreement should clearly describe the fee arrangement. All of the professional subconsultants’ fees are usually paid by the architect.

Design fees range from about 5 to 7 percent of total construction cost for larger facilities in the several million dollar range. They range between 10 to 12 percent for facilities under $1 million. An example of typical fee breakdowns in the 5 to 7 percent range based on actual construction cost is: architect with basic design, 5 to 7 percent; structural, 3 to 4 percent; civil and site, 4 percent; electrical and mechanical, 3 to 4 percent; interior design, 5 to 6 percent. Fee breakdown and payment is more manageable for the church when services are divided and subdivided into phases. More extensive planning efforts will usually require additional fees. The actual fees to establish the fee budgets can be negotiated during contract preparation.


Unlike other public facilities that are revenue producing or are candidates for grants, the church’s sole source of revenue is the faith, obedience, and commitment of the members to totally trust the Master to meet the needs. God’s financial provisions to both the giver and the church are a confirmation of the commitments and decisions made. One of the attributes of great leadership of the church facilities team is to maximize the planning efforts given the limited resources. The team works to obtain creative financing and to achieve actual construction costs that are far below the national averages.

The project’s financing success or failure hinges upon how well the design and construction planning has been done. It is important for the church to build in phases as funds are miraculously made available. Generally, the architect is not the most qualified to advise the church in matters of finance. The architect provides opinions of probable construction cost per phase. However, the church should hire a qualified church financial planner to assist in developing the specific financing program for design and construction, including ways not to overextend the actual commitments of the church.


As part of the architect’s master planning and preparation of the construction documents, the contractor’s agreement is prepared. This is a covenant that defines the church’s relationship with the contractor and indirectly with the architect. The contractor agreement and the remainder of the contract documents and drawings are the primary sources of guidance and final sources of authority to the contractor. Listed below are some typical alerts the church should consider including in the contract documents:

1. Extras. Treat wish-list items that can be added during or after construction as a contract "add alternate bid." If these items are requested later on without careful planning, you could pay a higher price. Seating and landscape are examples.

2. Inspection. Inspection other than by governmental agencies is not required by law but is helpful. Inspections do not provide guarantees but provide greater assurance to the church that the construction work is done right. The inspector must be qualified and should be independent of the contractor.

3. Photos and written documentation. Each day the construction progress should be documented in photos and reports by the inspector. All reports and directives must be written and copies provided for the church. Any changes made in the construction, including changes that will affect time and cost, are first to be approved by the church in the form of a change order. The church must closely monitor the changes with respect to total contract cost and enforce time constraints to complete the facility construction set forth in the contract.

4. Settlement of disputes. Generally, errors and omissions related to design are the architect’s responsibility. During construction, problems with claims, disputes, or interpretations of the written agreements will arise. It is always best to resolve these between the architect and contractor. The architect is responsible to render judgments in the interpretation of the contract documents. However, the architect’s decision may be appealed to an arbitration panel; your church legal counsel should be consulted. Remember, no one really wins in legal disputes. The best dispute settlement is prevention. Careful planning should forecast specific types of potential pitfalls.

5. Bonds and insurance. The church provides the property insurance during construction, and the contractor provides the liability insurance. It is customary that the church sets the limits for the contractor’s liability insurance and bond requirements. The church’s insurance carrier should advise in these matters.

6. Payments to contractor. The contractor is usually paid on a periodic basis based on percentage of work completed, not time on the job, as determined by the architect. At project completion, the church can hold money back until work is completed to the satisfaction of the architect and the church.

Master planning new church facilities is the technical medium to allow the Master’s sovereign plan for the church to be continually unveiled.


1. Data source based on a survey of nine medium and large capacity Assemblies of God church facilities and R.S. Means Company cost data.

Stephen J. Cavuoto, is a life-long member of the Assemblies of God New York District and is a licensed design professional.