Contracting for Church Design & Construction

Which Way is the Right Way? There are a myriad of ways for a church to contract for the design and construction of a new church. Today, many churches are built by what has become traditionally known as the design-bid-build method. This is the conventional general contractor approach, where the church hires an architect to design the building, the design is sent to bid, and builders submit bids to build the building, usually at a fixed cost. This is undoubtedly the worse way for the church to contract for the design and construction of their church.

There is a growing trend towards design-build, which, while better than design-bid-build, is not the best method in terms of lowering cost and risk. In a typical design-build model the church hires a builder by who, in turn, hires an architect who does the design work for the builder. The drawback, however, is that the architect works for the builder, not the church. This can put the church at a disadvantage as the possibility exists that the builder and architect can make design decisions that benefit the builder and architect (i.e. raise their profit), and not the church. In many cases, design-build has a drawback similar to that of the conventional general contractor model, a fixed price closed book contract where the church does not know all the costs of the building program and cost savings go to the builder, not the church.

Diametrically opposed to the sequential, and somewhat disjointed, design-bid-build delivery model, is the team approach using a construction manager. The team approach integrates the church, builder and designer together at the beginning of the design process to work in parallel throughout the design and construction process. This parallel team method provides the church with a number of advantages including: time savings, less duplicated effort, a design whose cost is counted throughout the development process, and a building design that is a collaborative effort rather than the product of a somewhat disjointed and adversarial process. All of these benefits add up to significant savings in time, cost and effort while producing a superior result.

If your church is planning to build, it will greatly benefit from having an “ideal model” to emulate. In the best church construction scenario, the church will have begun preparation to build well in advance of the design and construction phases, and accomplished two very important tasks. First and foremost, it should complete a needs and feasibility in order to objectively understand what it needs to build, what it can afford to build, and how to pay for it. (A needs and feasibility study is a prerequisite step for both architectural design and raising money through a capital campaign.

The capital campaign is the second task that the church should begin as far in advance of building as possible. Among other benefits, a capital campaign will help raise money for the up-front costs of building and potentially reduce the amount of money that needs to be borrowed. It would be in the church’s best interest to get a church building consultant, either from within their denomination or an independent consultant, for both the needs and feasibility and capital campaign. Both of these important tasks will be greatly enhanced by the wise counsel and experience of an outside consultant who is both experienced and objective.

This brings us to the model that will save the church the most time and money, reduce its risk and stress, and has the highest probability of providing the best building solution. The ultimate model for church construction is one with a consultant involved early in the process to determine needs and feasibility and execute a capital campaign who is working in a team consisting of a licensed architect and a construction manager working in an open book method where all costs and accounting are open to inspection and is working for a fixed fee.

The further away the church gets from this model, the greater the potential amount of cost, risk, and time the church will experience in their church building project. It is also important to remember that there is a lot of difference between an architect (or builder) that has done some churches and a church architect.