United in God's mission: Members pull together as careful process of planning begins : Tuesday, Mar
March 9 2004 by Jane Paige

United in God's mission: Members pull together as careful process of planning begins : Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

United in God's mission: Members pull together as careful process of planning begins

By Jane Paige
Special to the Recorder

Careful planning has the congregation of Benson Baptist Church working together to build a new fellowship hall and renovate the existing sanctuary. It also has them united in God's special mission for the church located in Benson, about 40 miles southeast of Raleigh.

For more than a year, church members answered questionnaires, interviewed consultants, talked to each other, researched church programs, studied town growth and prayed. Today, the congregation is raising $1.2 million for the new fellowship hall and renovations with an eye toward construction beginning later this year.

"The planning part of the process united us together as a church," said Dottie Williams, chairperson of the church's building committee. "It helped us look at ourselves and realize what we needed."

Taking time to carefully plan before the start of a church construction project can save time, money and headaches in the end, according to church consultants. Rushing into a building program without the proper information and guidance can result in big problems.

"Most churches have the greatest amount of difficulties with their facility needs if they do not take the time to do enough advance planning," said Jerry Grubbs, a church architectural consultant with LifeWay Church Resources in Nashville, Tenn.

Each year, he works with about 100 churches in various stages of growth and development. He advises each one to step back and follow the necessary procedures to ensure a quality plan and product.

"Planning as a concept is the central component for all church construction," he said. "Every church should take the time to get ready for its future."

Grubbs is the keynote speaker at two upcoming church construction conferences to be held in April. They are being sponsored by the Bible Study/Church Administration Team of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and LifeWay Christian Resources.

LifeWay publishes a booklet for churches on the planning and building process. The preliminary planning stage can last as long as a year for some churches, according to LifeWay consultants.

Robert Knowles, founder of Arks Incorporated in Raleigh, also helps churches prepare and conduct a successful church building program. He advises churches to spend time deciding if they should build a new sanctuary or undertake an addition or renovation. He has worked with Benson Baptist Church during its planning and development process.

"As we know, a house divided will not stand," he said. "There needs to be unity among the church members on the overall issue of actually proceeding with a building program."

If the vast majority supports the new building project, the church then should carefully decide what it needs to build. The church's programs are at the heart of the reason to build a new facility. Church members must investigate which programs are in line with the church's vision and which programs have broad support in the membership. Then, the church must determine what is needed in the new facility to make the programs work, according to Knowles.

He tells the story of a church that bought just three acres for its new facilities. They did not take into consideration the growth of the town and the fact that the current growth of the church was because of younger people. Within 13 years, the congregation had outgrown its three acres and was faced with raising enough money to move. The church also had stopped attracting new younger members due to the cramped facility.

Knowles also offers a 200-page book entitled Successful Church Building that takes congregations step-by-step through the planning and building process.

Williams said a facilities planning committee was formed about three years ago to survey the congregation and assess its needs. This panel looked at the existing buildings and then prepared an extensive questionnaire for the congregation. Top priorities were handicapped accessible entrances, more restroom facilities near the sanctuary and a new fellowship hall.

A building committee then was named, and various subcommittees were appointed. Again, the congregation was surveyed, the programs studied and the area researched. The same priorities resurfaced, and the congregation was ready to move forward with a capital campaign that started in January. Also planned are a larger choir loft, an elevator and a gathering space for the sanctuary.

The Church Building Planning Ministry of the Baptist State Convention also provides assistance to churches as they develop plans for construction. The group, headed by team leader Phil Stone, helps churches that are relocating, planning to build, planning to renovate, redesigning existing space, evaluating building needs, solving building problems or needing financial guidance.

"The most common mistake is for a church not to do adequate planning," Stone said. "A smart church will get involved in the entire building process before they even hire an architect or a builder."

To help churches assess their building needs, seven consultants working with the convention are located in territories across the state. (See related article, page 12) They are available for two visits, at no charge, to congregations considering a building or renovation program.

Bob Yates, who has been a consultant since 1993, said that planning is essential in the process.

"We want to help churches avoid costly mistakes down the road," he said. "We can visit a church and be more objective than they can many times. We don't have an axe to grind, but can just give an unbiased look at the situation."

Once the church has evaluated its current facilities, future priorities and mission, a master plan can be prepared. This is a plan for future property and facilities development, including conceptual design for the first phase of a building project and cost estimates for phase one and subsequent phases. This plan often will be prepared more than a year into the planning process and uses the information that has been gathered.

Williams of Benson Baptist Church said all the material that was collected and prepared also was beneficial when the church recently called a new pastor. He was able to learn a lot about the church and the upcoming building program.

"The entire planning process has been extremely educational and valuable," Williams said. "Unless the entire church has ownership in the plans, they are no good."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - This is the first in a series of nine monthly resource packages dealing with church contruction and furnishings.

Jane Paige is the former editor of The Cary News.)
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