Church building projects: Selecting the team
By Robert C. Foreman

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

For a successful building project, it is important for the church to have the right people in charge of the project. The building steering committee is the group of church members who act on behalf of the church leadership and congregation to guide the project through the programming, budgeting, design and construction process. They are one component of the church building team that includes the church, the architect and the contractor. The steering committee oversees and directs the work of the church building team.


Who is the most important member of the church building process?
  • 1. Steering committee chairman
  • 2. Architect
  • 3. Contractor
  • 4. Pastor

How should the church go about choosing the right people to serve on the steering committee? While some churches will choose a special group of laypersons, others will use elders, pastors or staff members. Many will use both laymen and pastors. It partly depends on how your church is governed.

It is not a committee that should be chosen by a nominating committee because they will often select people who are their friends and those they think are most familiar with construction and design. The wrong people selecting the committee will result in the wrong committee.

Instead of a committee selecting a committee, the steering committee should be selected by the pastor or the top leadership of the congregation. At least one or more staff members such as the pastor, executive pastor, church administrator or facilities director should serve on the committee. The persons selected should be based on strict qualifications and should meet the approval of the church leadership.

The steering committee should consist of people of high integrity and spiritual maturity. They must be fully committed to the church and 100 percent behind the "vision" of the pastor. They should get along well with others and work well together in a group. They must be reliable people who will show up for meetings. They must be excellent listeners and have the wisdom to make the right decisions. The steering committee is no place for "my way or else" personalities.

When asking people to serve, be certain they have a clear understanding of the responsibility and authority they will be given, and that they will be expected to suppress their own desires in favor of the good of the entire church congregation. They must understand they are committing to serve until the job is finished and that this could be a period of several years. The length of time will depend on factors that are not always under their complete control.

There are only two acceptable excuses for leaving the committee: (1) their death (or severe long-term illness) and (2) job transfer to another city. This is not an assignment one can quit because he/she gets tired of it or things do not go the right way. However, it would be better for someone who comes to disagree with the direction of the project to resign rather than hinder the work of the committee.

The pastor or leadership group that chooses the steering committee should also select the chairman and appoint each member to specific tasks as subcommittee leaders. The steering committee is a leadership team that will work together for a common goal and vision.

To function well, it should not be too large. An ideal steering committee size should be between five and seven people. A group of more than nine will become bogged down and find it impossible to get things accomplished. Churches with congregations under 500 should have no more than five on their steering committee. Churches with more than 500 active members can have a seven-member steering committee.

Nine-member steering committees should only be necessary for the megachurch. And often times the megachurches are pastor- or elder-led, and they may not be willing to trust a steering committee of church members. In the larger churches, the steering committee and the church governing board are often one and the same.

The steering committee should be made up of church leaders who somewhat reflect the entire church membership. They should be a cross-section of the church, but it is not necessary to try to have a representative from each age group or interest group. The entire church should pray for the selection process and that it will be God inspired.

It would be a serious mistake to appoint anyone because they are good friends with the pastor or because it is thought they might be a big contributor. It would be a serious mistake to appoint someone just because they work in a specific profession or industry. Members ought to be appointed for their integrity and leadership qualities, not their contributions or their vocation.

Unless the church is fairly small, the wise pastor will limit his involvement in the process. He will concentrate his efforts on setting the overall vision for the project and on being the pastor and spiritual leader of the congregation. Pastors who get too involved in the planning and building process may neglect their pastoral responsibilities.

The organization of the steering committee should be based on the subcommittee concept. Except for the chairman, each steering committee member serves as the leader of a specific subcommittee. Except for the subcommittee leaders, subcommittee members are not voting members of the steering committee and generally attend steering committee meetings only when invited.

The members of the subcommittees each meet with their respective subcommittee leader to work out details and decide on recommendations, which their subcommittee leader will then present to the rest of the steering committee for ratification. The steering committee should be able to override, revise or rework any subcommittee recommendation.

The steering committee has final control and nothing should ever bypass this group. Depending how the church is governed, only the congregation or leadership board can override the steering committee. The following is an outline of the function of each steering committee member and the duties of each of their respective subcommittees:
  1. The chairman should be a key church leader who works well with a diverse group and who can guide the steering committee organizationally and spiritually. The chairman always must see the "big picture" and be willing to leave the details to others. He must be totally committed to the pastor's vision and to the tasks that need to be completed.

  2. The secretary should be a detail-oriented person and an organized record keeper. The secretary can be a nonvoting member if there is an even number on the steering committee. The secretary could be the voting subcommittee leader of the prayer and publicity subcommittee, when there is a larger steering committee.

  3. The program and design subcommittee will likely be the largest subcommittee. It will consist of the leader, who is on the steering committee, and up to 10 members, depending on project size and complexity. This group's primary responsibility will be working with church staff and the architect to determine the project program and design. They will coordinate with the finance subcommittee to balance the program with the budget. This group will present the program and the schematic design to the steering committee for approval, after which the steering committee will take it before the entire church. Depending on project size and scope, subgroups possible under the program and design subcommittee include (1) worship center, (2) fellowship hall and kitchen, (3) administration offices and music suite, (4) education classrooms and media center, (5) site/parking/landscaping and (6) interior design and furnishings.

  4. The construction subcommittee acts as technical advisors to the program and design subcommittee during design and goes into full action once construction gets started. The construction subcommittee leader may be appointed to act as the main point of contact between the steering committee and the architect and contractor during construction. Only three to five members are needed, and it is good if some of them are familiar with the construction process. The leader and members should be familiar with construction, understand how to communicate with architects and contractors and be available to meet on the job site during construction.

  5. The finance subcommittee should be a group of three to five people who understand what the church is capable of doing from a financial standpoint. They will be a financial advisory group to advise the steering committee and help establish the project budget. If there is to be a loan, they will be responsible for selecting the lender and arranging the loan. For smaller steering committees, they can also be responsible for fundraising and working with a capital stewardship consultant. Ideally, the leader should be familiar with banking, finance or accounting.

  6. The prayer and publicity subcommittee will consist of three to five people who will help organize churchwide prayer for the building team as well as publicize plans to build and keep the congregation informed along the way. This subcommittee will be responsible for preparing a brochure or other material (DVD, PowerPoint, video, etc.) to fully inform the congregation at appropriate times. At certain times, information may be released to the press or other media outlets. The church website can be used to update membership on the planning and building progress. Smaller steering committees may combine these functions with the duties of the steering committee secretary, with a small subcommittee to help.

  7. If a larger steering team is needed, then fundraising can be a separate subcommittee from the finance subcommittee. The fundraising subcommittee will help select and work with a professional fund raising organization which will assist the church in conducting a church wide capitol stewardship campaign. This subcommittee will be involved with promoting the campaign and asking church members for pledges to the building fund.
While the steering committee will consist of five to seven people, using the subcommittee concept, the total church membership involvement may be 15 to 30 people. To involve more people and spread the workload, additional subcommittees or temporary work groups, not necessarily part of the steering committee, could be appointed and may include the following:
  • Interior design — Normally included in the duties of the program and design subcommittee, some projects will need a separate interiors group to work with the architect or interior designer on color and finish selections, and any special design features such as stained glass, special art or sculpture, pews and altar furniture. The interior design group should be kept small, never more than a group of three people. A group of more than three will be too many to get things accomplished.

  • Church growth — This group could be appointed early to explore growth potential in the community and help determine projections of future church growth. They could also help plan and promote outreach and evangelism during the planning and construction.

  • Property acquisition — This temporary group will deal with obtaining new property and could be disbanded once property has been purchased. They may need to remain active as long as there are any land-use or zoning issues to resolve. It is better to deal with land-use issues before completing the property purchase. This group is very critical if relocation is involved.

  • Move-in and dedication — Depending on project size, moving in and dedication can be a major task. If relocation of the church is involved, this can be an enormous job. Planning must begin many months in advance of the actual move-in date. This group will deal with professional movers, special events, reception or dedication service, guest speakers, VIP guests and many last-minute arrangements. While the program and design subcommittee could handle this responsibility, it may be best if it were organized as a separate entity from the steering committee. It is always great to celebrate completion of a new facility and recognize the hard work of those who participated in helping achieve the final result.
One member of the steering committee should be appointed to serve as the single point of contact with the other members of the building team, the architect and the contractor. Ideally, this point of contact should be the chairman, or a staff member on the steering committee. As construction is about to begin, this responsibility could be transferred to the construction subcommittee chair.

Under no circumstance, except an emergency, should anyone who is not the designated point of contact engage the architect or contractor in direct substantive conversation about the project, unless the designated point of contact is present or directly involved. All phone calls, emails and other forms of communications should flow through the designated contact person.

This is a proven system and will help avoid misunderstandings. Written instructions, written interpretations of phone discussions and minutes of every meeting are all excellent ways to facilitate communications and avoid misunderstandings.

Assembling the right group of church leaders on the steering committee and using the subcommittee concept will result in a successful building project that will meet the facility needs of the entire church. The single point of contact system and good communication policy will help things run smoothly between the church and other members of the church building team.

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.