Three months after I began pastoring full-time, our church, which had been renting facilities for nearly 20 years, did the improbable: it won an auction for a deserted plastics factory. Suddenly, the church needed someone to manage the renovation process, to immerse himself in parking substrates and asbestos removal and sprinkler heads. I was chosen.
Realizing my knowledge of construction, on a good day, registered exactly zero, I called Dave, the executive pastor at a nearby church. "You've built two church buildings," I said. "What do I need to know about building a church?"
Dave paused, I think weighing whether I was ready to hear the truth. "The six months before you move in and the six months after will be hideously expensive."
I hung up and stared at the wall, overcome by the two painful realities of church construction.
Painful Reality 1: A building project will require knowledge you don't have.
Most church construction projects are led by pastors (like me), not by professional construction managers. Here's how I turned my ignorance into an asset:
- Play the "I'm new at this, so I was just wondering" card. When talking with potential lenders, contractors, or city officials, I freely acknowledged, right up front, "You're a professional at this, and I'm brand-new, so can I ask some questions?" I did that over and over—getting second, third, and even fourth opinions on major decisions—until common wisdom emerged. (And yes, this takes a lot of time. You will need to offload some pastoral responsibilities during the building phase.)
- Hire a great general contractor. Look for these three things:
- Experience in building your type of building. Since we were renovating a factory, we chose a contractor who had built large, high-ceiling industrial spaces, like Home Depots, and who had also built churches.
- Honest. You need to trust your GC implicitly, and several people in our church had good experiences working with the one we chose.
- Chooses subcontractors well. The subs do the actual construction, so you want reliable, high-quality trades people. Ask your potential GC which subs he or she has worked with on other projects. Then ask people in the trades if these are reliable. Resist the urge to overrule your GC and ask him to use mom-and-pop subcontractors from your friendship circles. The two subcontractors we chose, rather than letting our GC do it, were two we had difficulty with.
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