When churches are thinking about renovating or building, the point at which they decide to hire an architect varies greatly. In the case of new buildings, it is not unusual for the architect to be brought in pretty early on in the process. But in the case of renovation, congregations usually spend a great deal of time working on the project internally before seeking any professional help. Many of the tasks that they perform prior to hiring an architect are tasks that an architect could take care of for them. In the case of architects with experience in church design, they most likely would be able to perform those tasks more efficiently and more accurately than the average congregation. On the other hand, we have seen congregations that have used that time to develop excellent documents that they can hand off to an architect and save time and money once they hire him or her.
The biggest mistake any congregation can make, with or without an architect, is to leave the congregation out of the process. A successful project needs a wide base of support from throughout the congregation. While committees are often well suited to fact finding and problem solving, it is very important that the congregation as whole has at least some idea of what is happening. Otherwise, they are very likely to make their own assumptions, based on little bits of information they will inevitably hear. As they discuss their assumptions with other members of the church, the misrepresentations grow into “facts” that have little to do with reality. It is a delicate process that we have seen go terribly wrong more times than one would think.
A recent blog post by the Aspen Group’s Jed Davis, How to Create Buy-in for a Church Building Project, does an excellent job of describing some of the potential pitfalls in presenting projects (or even the IDEA of a project) to the congregation. His article also includes three steps your church leadership can take to avoid falling into these pitfalls. I highly recommend reading this article if you are even thinking about a building project at your church. It may be some of the best free advice you’ll get!