Church building projects: What you need to know
By Robert C. Foreman

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The is the first part of a four-part series about church building projects: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Nothing is as important to the success of a new church building project as the people you select to help with the task. Assembling the right team of people is a critical decision, which should result in a building that meets all of your facility needs and everyone involved having an enjoyable and rewarding experience in the process.


Does your church have a steering committee for building projects?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

If you have the wrong people — the wrong team — you will probably be disappointed. There are three components to the building team: owner, designer and builder.

There are several possible ways to contractually organize the team. This contract arrangement is referred to as the "delivery method." The key to success lies in organizing these three groups into a highly effective team, all working toward the same goal. Each church should learn how to assemble a successful building team and understand which delivery method is best for that particular church.


It starts with the church having the right people in charge of the project. For many churches it will be a committee structure. For some churches, it will be pastor-led or led by another staff minister or layperson acting as chairman.

A project of any size cannot be handled by just one person. Being pastor of a medium-sized or larger church is a full-time job. A pastor who thinks he can serve in the capacity of owner's representative on a major construction project will come to understand that such a task will soon consume a tremendous portion of his time, and there will be little time left for pastoral duties.

An owner's committee, a group of people, will be necessary because there are numerous decisions to be made. Some larger projects may require an outside consultant to serve as the owner's representative, sometimes referred to as a program manager or a project manager.

Unless the church is willing to turn every decision over to outsiders, most churches will still need a committee of members and pastors who can speak for the church. We refer to this group as the church steering committee. In most cases, it includes both laymen and pastors and is selected by the top leadership. There is a right size and a right way to go about selecting the steering committee.


The right design team is also critical to project success. The designer determines the design based on input from the steering committee. Churches that allow nondesigners to dictate the building design will ultimately be dissatisfied with the end product as well as the process.

The architect is the professional educated and trained to lead the design team. The architect heads up a team of designers and other professionals who each have specific roles to play in the design and build process.

Examples of the design team members who work under the architect's direction include civil engineers, landscape architects, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers. Other specialists under his direction include interior designers, kitchen designers, audio, video and lighting specialists. There is a tried and proven way to select the right architect for your church.


The contractor is the leader of the builder team. The contractor heads up a team of specialists (subcontractors and suppliers) who complete the work. The right contractor for your church is critical for a quality finished product — a well built facility for a fair price. The contractor should be experienced working with churches as well as experienced in current construction methods and techniques. Finding the best contractor for your church should be a top priority.

Delivery Method

"Delivery method" is shorthand for the different possible contractual arrangements that define the roles of the various building team members.

The most well known and traditional delivery method is referred to as design-bid-build (DBB). In this system, the architect is hired by the church to prepare a design, and once the plans are complete they are "put out to bid" for multiple builders to competitively price. The low bidder is usually awarded a stipulated price contract.

The design-build (DB) method of delivery combines the services of the architect and contractor. Under this system, the architect and contractor are one contractual entity.

Another system, sometimes called "partnering," places the architect in a traditional contractual relationship with the church. But instead of bidding to several bidders, a contractor is hired under either a cost-plus agreement or a stipulated-sum contract. A popular variation of this for larger projects is called integrated project delivery (IPD).

Construction management (CM) is the system in which the church hires a construction manager and essentially acts as its own contractor.

Each of these delivery methods has advantages and disadvantages. The church steering committee must understand each of these delivery methods and the pros and cons of each to be able to decide which delivery method is best for their situation.

Nothing will impact the success of a new church building expansion or renovation as much as the people selected to help with the task. A building team that includes the right people will result in the best design and the best facility. It is important to understand the well defined roles each team member will play and how they can be best organized for your church's benefit.

In a series of articles we address how to select and how to organize the building team. We address the different ways the team can be organized contractually, and we explore the pros and cons of each delivery method.

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.