Counting the Cost

Posted on August 13, 2015
Assessing Your Facility Needs & Funding Capacilty

No wonder the construction industry is the second most litigated industry in the country.  Architects and contractors, for years, have been taught to distrust and even undermine each other to maintain control and protect their egos and pride.  The result, according to Project Management Journal, is that over $.20 of every construction dollar goes to claims and litigation.  For the typical church building committee member, this cause and effect process brings about six phases of emotion and action:
  • Enthusiasm
  • Disillusionment
  • Panic
  • Search for the Guilty
  • Punishment of the Innocent
  • Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants

The two top reasons for the above six phases and possibly the litigation, are poor pre-planning and improper budgeting for the upcoming project.  A lack of early expectation management can become a spiral of frustration, poor quality, and at its worst, fractured fellowship within the body of believers.  Often, the first step of this spiral is either needing to reduce the square footage of the design, or reduce the quality of the building materials used, due to the budget constraints.  Life cycle costing is becoming a more significant tool, and it should.  Over the course of 40 years, the life cycle cost of owning a church facility is 11% for actual construction costs, 14% for financing costs, and 75% for maintenance and repair costs.  The sweet taste of low cost construction materials soon dissipates with the bitterness of maintenance costs due to poor quality.

The stewardship challenge begins long before drawings are begun; it begins with  reasonable expectations set and understood by the Building Committee months prior to designing.  It has been said that the only place that a church facility can be built ahead of schedule, under budget, and with only the finest materials is in a Building Committee Meeting!  The fact is that on every project there are three key components to balance:  the desired size of the facility (square footage), the need to stay within a budget to build the facility (finances), and the desire for the best materials used to build the facility.  The challenge…the Building Committee must decide which two components are the most important.  You cannot have all three.
The tension that exists with this decision is manageable as long as the Project Team understands it early in the process.  A useful tool called Facility Modeling helps everyone understand the unique challenges that are before today’s growing church. The following Facility Modeling tool (based on National Averages) can be used to get the Project Team started off on the right foot.



Typical fundraising will raise 3.0 times the annual budget, not including special gifts.  Financial Institutions will lend approximately 70% of the three year commitments on a separate note.

___________          x                3.0              =    __________          x           .70     =__________________
(Last Year’s Budget)                                              (Fundraising Goal)                         (Funds Immediately Avail.)


Church financing is becoming a very specialized industry.  Financial Institutions will lend up to 3.0 times Last Year’s Annual Budget, as long as the loan payment does not exceed 30% of the Annual Budget.

__________x            3.0           = _______________
(Last Year’s Budget)                       (Financing Available)

Funds on Hand

Money currently in the Building Fund    =   _______________
                                                                              (Building Fund)

Funds from the sale of Properties or Facilities    =   ______________
                                                                                           (Sale of Assets)

Funds Available for Construction
= ___________________ + __________________ + _________________ + _________________
(Fundraising Available)   (Financing Available)       (Building Funds)      (Sale of Assets)



Today’s contemporary worship style and the extensive use of music and drama is requiring almost 15 SF of space per seat.  This allows practical seating, aisle ways and space for a large platform area.

__________  Seats  x  15 SF/Seat    =   _______________SF


In many churches, the main foyer is used for banquets, classes, displays and is the primary area for meaningful fellowship.  The recommendation is 1/3 the size of the main auditorium should be allocated to the foyer/narthex area.

__________  Seats  x  15 SF/Seat  x  .33    =   _______________SF


Learning areas are becoming the most versatile of all areas.  This versatility accommodates changing ministries and sizes of age groups and classroom attendances.  A general calculation of 18 SF per Sanctuary/Auditorium seat will provide the total square footage needed for classrooms.  This calculation is based on a 50% classroom attendance.

__________  Seats  x  18 SF/Seat    =   ______________SF


Individual spaces in the administration area can be:  pastor’s offices, secretary, work area, library, conference room, and dedicated storage areas.  An average size of 200 SF can be used for each individual space to determine the square footage of the administration area.

__________  Spaces  x  200 SF/Space    =   _____________SF
Multi-Purpose/Gymnasium/Fellowship Hall

If you desire a full size gymnasium, the size of the playing surface is +/- 60 x 100.  This translates to 6,000 SF, which would seat +/- 400 at round tables.  A half court gymnasium would be 3,000 SF and seat +/- 200 people.  Kitchen areas to support either option should be no smaller than 900 SF.

Full Size Gym (6,000 SF)    =   _____________SF
Half-court Gym (3,000 SF)    =   _____________SF
Kitchen Area (minimum of 900 SF)    =   _____________SF

Café/Resource Center/Bookstore

“Dedicated” and more intimate fellowship areas are becoming more important to foster relationship building and smaller group learning opportunities.  About 2 SF per Sanctuary/Auditorium seat is suggested for these areas.

__________  Seats  x  2 SF/Seat    =   _____________SF

Youth Worship Center

A space where a broad range of ages can gather for praise and worship, prior to breaking up for age appropriate teaching, requires about 12 SF per Sanctuary/Auditorium seat.

__________  Seats  x  12 SF/Seat    =   _____________SF

Total Estimated Dedicated Square Footage

Total all of the above areas Sanctuary/Auditorium, Foyer, Classrooms, Administration, Multi-Purpose/Gymnasium/Fellowship Hall, Café/Resource Center/Bookstore, and Youth Worship Center.

Total of above areas    =  _______________ SF
Circulation & Restroom Areas

Approximately 20% of all dedicated space is needed for navigation of the facility.  Building code often allows 4’ hallways (for example); a recommendation would be to never make them less than 8’.

_____________SF  x  .20        =  ______________ SF
(Total Dedicated)

Total Estimated New Construction Square Footage Needed =  __________________________  SF
                                                                                                            (Sum of the two “highlight” totals from above)


New Construction 

Cost/SF for new construction is difficult to establish based on region, materials used and the use of volunteers or gifts in kind. The National Average to construct places of Worship is $100/sf.  Contact a reputable builder and, after giving a thorough description of your needs, ask what he thinks the building could be constructed for per square foot. You can also see various types of buildings, and their cost per square foot, at

__________SF of New Construction  x  $________/SF    =   $_____________

Fixtures, Furnishings and Equipment (FFE)

The interior finishes, furnishings and A/V Systems that are going into today’s facilities are even more difficult to estimate than the cost/SF for the actual structure.  A good rule of thumb is 30% of the Facility cost of construction.

$____________    x          .30    =  $_____________
(Cost of Facility Construction)
Site Improvements (General Earthwork, Parking & Utilities)

Site Improvements tend to be another of those line items that can fluctuate significantly based on geography and various challenges that each individual site presents.  Those challenges range from wetlands to hazardous waste.  Always bring a site engineer into the early discussions of purchasing property; it could save you tens of thousands, or more.


The ideal ratio of one parking space for every 2 seats is recommended.

__________  Seats/2 spaces/seat  x  200 SF/space (10 x 20)  

x  2.50 (ratio for drive aisles)        =  _____________SF of Paving

__________SF of Paving  x  $4.00/SF    =  $_____________

General Earthwork & Utilities

Excavation is estimated over the total area that the work is to take place.

__________SF of New Construction  +  __________SF of Paving

=  __________SF of Excavation  x  $3.00/SF    =  $_____________

Total Estimated Site Improvement Costs =  $____________________
                                                                (Sum of Parking, Earthwork& Utilities)

Total Estimated Project Cost = $_______________________.
                                   (The sum of New Construction + FFE + Site Improvement Costs)

As seen in the following graphic, when the least amount of resources are being invested, the Project Team actually has the
most influence on the project design and construction costs.  Time spent early in a planning process will directly influence the cost of the project.  A myth exists that “value engineering” (saving the church money) can take place after the design is complete.  After the project design is complete, the typical approach to “value engineering” is to decrease quality or decrease square footage.  This chop and hack approach is not only contrary to positive momentum, but most importantly, it is contrary to the vision and mission of the church.  Nearly 50% of America’s churches have a set of plans hidden behind the Pastor’s door that will never be built.  On average, the other 50% that did build lost their Pastor within 18 months of the completion of their new facility.  The number one reason for these disconnects is the lack of an integrated Project Team and a Discovery Process that guides that Team carefully through planning each unique project.  True value engineering and good construction decisions are made early in the process with a Team approach of Owner-Architect-Contractor equally yoked and in step, pulling toward the same goal.  A good Discovery Process keeps the Project Team in step and protects the project from potentially disastrous surprises.

Key components of Discovery are:
  • Alignment of Facility Goals with Financial Capabilities.
  • Alignment of Facility Needs with Congregational Needs and Involvement.
  • Alignment of the Facility Location with the Challenges that the Building Site Presents.

F.W. Dodge, the largest provider of construction analysis and statistics in the United States and Canada, has verified that the average construction project is 30% over budget due, primarily, to beginning construction design prior to understanding (Discovering) the Vision and Mission of the Client and the project challenges that would have surfaced during a Feasibility Study.  An integrated Project Team working through a comprehensive Discovery Process together makes good cost and stewardship decisions.
A Project Team dedicated to understanding the church will focus on designing a facility around your ministry by actually connecting the facility design to your church’s vision and mission.  The graphs show that in a growing US population, despite significant investment in building and/or improving our places of worship, we are actually reaching less people.  Good construction decisions begin by understanding who the church is, what the church’s long range goals are, and who is the target of the church’s outreach?  The Word of God never changes…the way we convey God’s Word does.  Creating an environment that reaches the first time visitor and serves the long time member is critical.  Designing relevant facilities where people can relax, can be themselves, can connect with others, and can become a part of the “community” is nothing new.  The Church can learn, and has been learning, from the retail business industry as coffee bars and bookstores crop up with the same feel as Barnes & Noble and Starbuck’s Coffee.  When visitors pull up to your facility with more technology on four wheels than you have in the entire facility…there is a relevant disconnect.  The more the Church strives to understand the “lost” in their area and then meet them where they are, via good construction decisions, the more effective the Church will become in drawing the “lost” into their facilities to hear the Good Word.

Good construction decisions are made long before the “bricks and sticks” arrive on the jobsite.  A good Design/Build Team can guide you through the process of Discovering the Facility Challenges before you, and Designing a Facility around your Ministry.  Discovering who the church is and following the Lord’s leading will be a critical component for a successful project…long before the “bricks and sticks”.   
Kurt Williams, NACDB CCC, LEED AP, is a Design/Build veteran at T&W Church Solutions with over 25 years in the industry, 20 of those years guiding over 100 churches through the various stages of Planning, Designing and Building their new facilities.  T&W Church Solutions is a Design/Build firm who partners with ministry-focused architects to serve the churches of Central Indiana as well as the only NACDB (National Association of Church Design Builders) Certified Firm in Central Indiana.  Kurt can be reached at