“Lost in the Weeds” When do you call for help?

Church planning, additions and new building projects take a lot of volunteer hours to organize and begin to understand the needs and goals of the community this is time well spent and critical to the success of most church facility improvement projects.  There comes a time when you have gathered all the data you have surveyed the congregation the Vision, Mission and Values of the community are defined and it is believed that changes need to be made accomplish the goals set by the community.  The danger is getting lost in the details or “lost in the weeds”.  As architects we are trained and have made it our life’s work to solve complex problems creating meaning and delight in the process.  So when you have come to the point of defining the needs and understanding the goals this is the time when an architect needs to be brought in to make sense of the written words, the physical reality of your facility and the financial capabilities of your community.

More often than not the work of gathering data and building the initial consensus around the Mission of the church and how the facility can further the goals of that mission is taken on by the church leadership and additional volunteers. Many denominations have programs in place to lay the ground work for healthy growing communities and have staff that can help communities through that process.  This “third party“ review identifies opportunities and weaknesses and areas for improvement to make the community a better place for worship, education and fellowship. This is an important process and takes time, in some cases a year or more.  Why is it important? It builds grass root understanding of the needs of the church and puts the community on a path of overall understanding of the church Mission and how their work and the facility can make the goals of the church achievable, all this is done prior to a capital campaign. Often the work of design is put before the work of understanding the Mission.  This is a recipe for failure.  Master planning in a vacuum without a base of understanding and support of the leadership and the community is a waste of time and money.  Often the work of developing a Mission and building consensus around the needs both physical and spiritual is facilitated by an architect or a liturgical consultant if a denominational program is not available.  This can be a good option but I have found that a process of evaluation and education is best built from within as it takes time and money to hire a facilitator and the process can be formulaic whereas the community can choose a facilitation model and explore the issues at their own pace and build community and momentum that is real and pervasive.

Master Plan Phasing diagram, St. Andrew Christian Church
Site Phasing Plan

Architects love constraints, were most people see complexity and disparate parts an architect sees opportunity.  The more that is known about the Mission and the goals to be achieved, allows the architect to craft a solution that can solve as many problems and create more opportunities for growth and spiritual connection.  So do not fear the process of evaluation and growth embrace the opportunity to make the Mission of your church a visible and functioning reality.

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