By Craig Thompson
The common wisdom is that the tenure for most pastors following a building campaign is eighteen months. For that reason, I’ve waited to write this post until I had crested the eighteen-month mark.
The story of our building process actually began in 2010. In the early parts of that year, we were growing rapidly and recognized the need to make significant changes or start turning people away.
Knowing buildings aren’t built overnight and realizing we didn’t even know what we needed, our church decided to move our worship services from our maxed-out sanctuary into our gymnasium temporarily until money could be raised and a building plan could be finalized.
A temporary move we anticipated taking twelve to eighteen months lasted until December of 2016. From August of 2010 until December of 2016, we transformed our gymnasium into a make-shift worship center, and I earned another doctorate in chair-moving and stage set-up.
The last day we worshiped in our sanctuary in August of 2010 was a celebration. We baptized twelve people (if my memory is correct), we had new people join our church, and believers responded at the invitation to confess their sins and renew their commitment to Christ.
Our sanctuary was packed. We even had a huge fellowship meal afterward. And then, all hell broke loose.
The next three months were filled with spiritual warfare, depression (for me), several attempts at suicide by members of our church, and several significant deaths within our church. We also moved from our beautiful stained-glass filled sanctuary into a gymnasium complete with basketball goals, wood paneling, and sodium-vapor lighting.
I was early in my doctoral studies and had (no exaggeration) nearly 10,000 pages of reading and 180 pages of writing that semester. We were involved in a massive search for a missing person. A young woman had a demonic encounter in my office. I had a respiratory infection that bordered on pneumonia and hung around for over a month. My grandfather died, and I battled insomnia.
As I write to you about surviving a building campaign, I want you to understand upfront; it is not easy. The beginning of the process for us was filled with spiritual warfare and growth we had been experiencing before moving into our gymnasium all but stalled.
When we decided to do something big, we were opposed in big ways. But, in spite of all of those things, God’s church prevailed, and in most ways, we emerged stronger on the back end of a long fund-raising and building process.
We made some mistakes, but our mistakes are your blessing because we learned from them. Here are ten lessons you can apply to your next building project:
1. Move the mission forward.
The building of the church building is an important step in the life of a congregation. However, it is not the mission of the church. As the building is being constructed, make sure you tend to the care of the actual body of Christ and continue to be faithful to the Great Commission.
2. Count the cost.
When we moved into our gym, we had to install air conditioning, projectors, additional lighting, and panels to cut down on the echo. We also had to purchase two-hundred new chairs and staging and sound equipment. Every effort must be made to “do worship” well, even if you are worshiping in a less-than-ideal environment.
When we got to the actual construction of our building we had to pay for new surveys, a fire hydrant, and an updated fire-alarm system across the entire campus. Carefully budget for everything. Most people understand spending money, as long as they are not surprised by the expenditures and as long as there is a proper explanation.
3. Know your church.
The greatest mistake we made in the process was to propose an initial plan that pushed our church to look and feel more contemporary than our church is. The architects we worked with saw an opportunity to create a beautiful building for their portfolio, but the building just didn’t fit our church or our community.
The concept was so poorly received that we scrapped the whole plan and started over—this pushed our project back at least eighteen months. On the flip side, the humility shown by our committee to scrap that project and start over maintained unity and buy-in within our church. Know your people.
4. Understand expectations.
What does the church expect of you as a pastor during a building process? Ask these questions of your key leaders and live up to those expectations.
Is your church a blue-collar church? They probably need to see you with Carhartts and a hammer or broom occasionally. If your church is a white-collar church, they will be comfortable with you being the figurehead and working through a chair-person and a project supervisor.
5. Identify a project manager.
Someone in your church (other than you) needs to be in charge of the project. The church needs to vote on a committee, and the committee needs to appoint a chairperson. This person will serve as the project manager for the church.
Ideally, this should be someone who can spend a significant amount of time at the church building during the building process.
6. Consider your neighbors.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Do all that you can to make sure that your building project makes a positive impact on your community.[/epq-quote]Do all that you can to make sure that your building project makes a positive impact on your community. Our church property is in a neighborhood. We wanted our new building to elevate home-values, not diminish them. We want our neighbors to be glad we are there.
The stress of our building was not increased by angry neighbors protesting a 60-foot yellow cross. Nor an ugly building they had to endure on their way to work every morning.
7. Remember, you are the leader.
A building project needs the full support and leadership of the pastor to succeed. However, not all pastors lead in the same way.
I was hands-on throughout the project. Some of the sub-contractors confused me for the general contractor when I pulled out a measuring tape or climbed into the rafters. I was involved in every detail from the color of the grout in the bathrooms to the placement of the theatrical lighting.
A friend of mine led his church to build a new sanctuary, and the only thing he spoke into was the new pulpit design (he wanted an acrylic one).
There are different ways to lead, but make sure you pick a way and lead with all your heart.
8. Prepare for interruptions.
If your building project is taking place on your existing campus, everything is going to be dirty. Know that your office will be the gathering place for contractors, sub-contractors, committee members, fire marshals, and curious church members.
I made time to do my sermon-prep off campus so that I could have some uninterrupted time.
9. Ask for help.
When the building process starts, you pick up a second job. Ask yourself if you have margin in your schedule to add 10-20 hours of work per week. If not (and most of you don’t), figure out how to get some help.
I was blessed to have a great staff who picked up the pieces for all of the work I wasn’t able to get done between meetings and building commitments.
Ask for help on the front-end so that you don’t get too overwhelmed.
10. Know that the stress doesn’t end when you move into the building.
The goal of the building campaign is to receive a certificate of occupancy from your local municipality. When you receive your CO, you can begin utilizing the space for which you have prayed and worked. However, the stress doesn’t go away immediately.
There are probably still punch lists, closing documents, and warranty issues that may drag on for an additional six months. Plan a victory vacation to celebrate the end of the building process. I learned to schedule it 3-6 months after completion to get the most benefit.
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are ten lessons I learned through our project. The result is a beautiful building that has been a great blessing to our church and community.
And, eighteen months later I’m still here, the church is growing, and lives are being changed. In other words, we didn’t just survive. We thrived. We are healthier today than we were only a few years ago.
I hope this list helps. However, there is one thing that will help you more than anything I didn’t include in the list. Find a pastor who had successfully led a building campaign and ask him to come. It’s worth it, even if it means paying his travel to get him there.
Invite him to come and talk with you, the building committee, and other leadership in the church to explain what to expect. The pastor will have a major load to carry with a building project.
A church that has been prepared is a church who can not only be patient with their pastor but can support and encourage their pastor in hard times.
Maybe next time I’ll share what I would say to a church before they enter into a building campaign.
Craig Thompson (@craig_thompson) is the husband of Angela, father of four, and the senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.