Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Constructing a New Church Building?

Dear North Central Conference Friends,

Church buildings say a lot about the congregation which assembles and serves from that facility. According to Mark Waltz (First Impressions, Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, Group Publishing, 2004), people will make a decision about your church within the first 10 minutes of arrival. People with a well-cultivated sense of Christian hospitality and intentionally gracious behavior can make up for a lot of wear and tear on a facility. Still, the facility does matter.

The Emmanuel Free Methodist Church (Pastor Dan Grimes) built a new facility in Janesville, Wisconsin. The large church building is well designed with an attractive entrance, a multi-use sanctuary that features excellent media capabilities and family-style seating and bright spaces for ministry to children and youth. Walking into this new church the first impressions are quite good. Thoughts that come to mind are contemporary, family-oriented, quality and relevant.

Several NCC congregations have recently made significant improvements to their facility, or moved to a new facility. LifePointe Church (Tiffin, IA, Pastor Randy Reed), only two years old, has moved from its meeting place in a local movie theater (a pretty cool venue) into a building that is more suited for its ministry goals. The Fillmore FMC (MN, Pastor Mike Hopper) built a new facility a few years ago that provides without question the finest church building within a 20 mile radius. Fairly new construction can be found at the Free Methodist Church in LaFarge, Wisconsin (Pastor Mark Phillips), including a new community skate park for Kickapoo Valley youth. There are many more.

Kevin Costner dreamed, "If we build it they will come." That was fiction. Often they will. Emmanuel and LifePointe both have seen a significant increase in attendance since making their moves. Yet these congregations were growing, healthy churches with clear vision and plans to reach their community with the gospel and built as part of a clear strategy to fulfill God’s vision for the church. A church which is struggling internally, is not experiencing church growth, lacks a healthy vision or strategic plan should not consider building or making significant renovations. Building projects can create extraordinary stress, and if there is not significant unity over why a new building is necessary such a project will likely do more harm than good.

Consider these questions before building. Is the church really short of space? Multiple services are often a better and much more cost effective solution to space issues. Does the church have the property to accommodate new construction and the necessary additional parking? Is there a true ministry need that cannot be met via existing facilities? Are the facilities so worn or in such disrepair that they are no longer functional? How supportive are the leaders and stakeholders (which include your community) of expansion or new construction? How does the financial health of the congregation allow for the project? Have professional planners, denominational leaders, and appropriate specialists been consulted? Above all is God clearly at work in the midst of your church? How have you seen the Holy Spirit preparing the way, leading to growth and expansive vision for ministry that would necessitate a new building?

As a movement with 150 years of history, it is no surprise that many NCC facilities are very old, often surpassing their centennial mark. Some buildings are donated homes tucked into a neighborhood corner and well out of community site. Some have nurseries or restrooms or children’s ministry space that either still have decor from 1960 or are in poor repair or a poor location that say to families, "this church will not care for the safety or well being of my children." Certainly first impressions are compromised and long term ministry opportunities may be hindered. Jesus made it clear that even the very Temple of Jerusalem, construction which God required, was temporary.

If you believe God is leading you to consider building or expanding, there are some good FMC and NCC resources available. Check out the self-select coaching page (nccfmc.org) and note the availability of coaches who can assist with thinking through building projects. Call one of the pastors mentioned in this article. While the NCC Loan Fund has presently loaned out funds to capacity, we anticipate that more loan funds will be available mid-2010. The Free Methodist Foundation is a good resource for expansion or construction funding. You may wish to check out such web sites as churchsolutionsmag.com, churchconstruction.com, churchbizonline.com, cornerstoneconference.com and buildingforministry.com. Your ministry team considering construction or expansion would benefit from visiting a local congregation that may have recently gone through a building and gaining insight from their perspectives. Visit some of the excellent NCC facilities and learn from the experiences of your peers who have been successful in doing what it takes to make a great first impression.

"You are like livings stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood..." (1Pt.2.5)

Your servant,
Superintendent Mark

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