If your church has ever been through a building project, then you know that you need buy-in before any project can get off the ground. You need support from key stakeholders within your congregation who can help you gain support from the outliers and the neutrals throughout the process. And you know that these can be hot topics, capable of polarizing groups.
Over the years of working with myriad congregations from multiple denominations, we’ve seen plans for a building project presented well—rallying the church body around the excitement of a new potential. But we’ve also seen them delivered poorly—arousing doubts and emotions that threaten to divide a congregation.
Two Hazards in Church Building Project Presentations
When we’ve seen projects disintegrate, it typically stems from two pitfalls:
1. The Proclamation Pitfall: People tend to hear information through their own selective listening filter. For example, when you stand before your congregation and proclaim, “We’re discussing the need for expanding our kids’ space,” you may mean that your leadership just began an internal review of the need. Your church body, however, may hear an entirely different message:
“We’re expanding the kids’ space. It will be 4,500 square feet with one large group room, three classrooms and two bathrooms. We’ll paint everything blue, red and yellow because kids love primary colors, and we’ll be breaking ground tomorrow. Isn’t that awesome?”
Yes, it sounds a bit preposterous, but it happens. After all, you represent church leadership, and so the congregation naturally assumes that much thought and research has already gone into every presented idea. Without a clear proclamation, you can say one thing and the church body can hear another thing. For this reason, be sure you specify exactly what “discussing the need for expanding our kids’ space” means. With whom are you discussing this—an architect or builder, kids’ ministry leaders at your church? Clearly define where you are in the process, what the next step will be for your church, how and when you plan to follow-up with more information with the congregation, and where people can go to ask questions or voice concerns or ideas. Sharing as much information as you can will build trust and give people a sense that you value their input. And this helps increase the buy-in factor with a building project.
2. The Product Pitfall: Churches sometimes make the mistake of presenting a church building project as if the new space is a product the church is purchasing. In reality, your church space is a tool for ministry—not a product. The building should always be about the ministry it can help produce. Otherwise, your leadership and congregation will lose sight of the big picture and get lost in the minutiae of carpet selections, floor plans or wall colors. And at that point, discord and divisions will take place. The focus must always remain on the ministry the space will help facilitate.
The ABCs of Avoiding These Hazards
Here are three steps your church leadership can take to avoid falling into these two pitfalls:
Adopt a New Direction Additions, renovations, expansions and the like—these are all solutions. Before you share any building plans with your congregation, first identify the existing problems your ministry space poses and how it’s becoming a barrier to growth. For example, you could state, “We’re experiencing incredible growth right now, and because of that, things are getting tight in the kids’ spaces. Praise God! What a great problem to have, as it means we’re impacting local families for Christ. We can’t wait to explore solutions with you all in the near future.”
In that scenario, you’re offering no solutions at this point. Instead, you’re simply encouraging the church body to celebrate the problems together. You’re also creating intrigue and bringing the entire congregation into the big picture (i.e., the solution).
Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., says that a leader’s job is to move people from here to there. But before you can move them to there, you have to make a case for why staying here is no longer acceptable. A pending building project is a perfect opportunity to get your congregation behind the idea of moving from here to there.
Build the Project’s Momentum After fully educating your congregation on the problem, it’s then time to offer building solutions by presenting floor plans and visuals that your building committees and/or staff have been poring over for months. Be careful, though, not to get fascinated by fancy renderings and architectural concepts. Be sure to keep the focus on the unspoken ministry potential these graphics portray.
For instance, while showing a classroom image, you could point out a chair and share a live or pre-recorded testimony of a life transformed by sitting in your current chairs. Remind people that your building is a tool for ministry.
Channel the Congregation’s Enthusiasm Once you energize your congregation about the problems and solutions, you need to preserve strong buy-in by maintaining energy around your building project. Continue to celebrate the problem with your people—growing beyond the capacity of the space to contain everyone, for example. Leverage multiple mediums and platforms to deliver that message, such as updates from the pulpit, announcements in the bulletin or on your church website, video clips to highlight the ministry impact your new space will have. And whenever you discuss or showcase the solution, be sure to tie it back to your ministries and your people. A successful building project always revolves around these two elements—not the building.