Cost Per Square Foot To Build A Church

Signpost One of the most frequently asked questions is “what does it cost per square foot to build a church?” The answer to that question is about as easy to answer as, “How far is up?” There is no real way to accurately answer the question of cost until you clarify several underlying questions.

This is a hard question to answer, sometimes even for finished projects, and here is why. In order to determine a meaningful value that one might use for estimating what it may cost to build a church, you have to first determine what goes into the definition of cost per square foot. One person may say the building cost for a finished church building project was $115 a square foot and another may say $195 – and they may both be right! How can two answers so very different both be right?? As one of our past presidents so glibly demonstrated, the answer depends on how you interpret the question.

To evaluate and use a cost per square foot as a meaningful measure, you have to know what went into the cost calculation. For instance, were design fees, site work, permits, construction interest, utility tap fees, furniture,  fixtures, road improvements, parking, landscaping, and other expense items that were not part of the “building” calculated into the cost per square foot? In our example of two people giving very different yet equally accurate costs to build, the difference lay in what they factored into the cost. Without knowing exactly what is factored into the cost, cost per square foot numbers are meaningless at best and deceiving at worse.

The View From The Other Side

A Guide to Church Construction“Factually, pastors and their leadership teams often lack the “nuts and bolts” know-how of building programs.  That is why both Stephen Anderson and his book, Preparing to Build, are such a blessing to the Church. From personal experience, Stephen’s insight and principles helped us realize the purpose God had in our building project. Like Jethro being a blessing to Moses, Stephen’s insight, experience and principles will be a blessing to so many pastors and church leaders who believe God is leading them to trust Him in a building project.”
Dr. Paul W. Smith, Lead Pastor – Crosspoint Alliance Church, Lewiston, ID

Design considerations and location sometimes can make huge differences in cost per square foot. A simple 15,000 square foot single story building in rural West Virginia will probably cost far less to build than a similar building in metro Washington, DC or Orlando, FL. A simple yet well built building may cost a third of a similarly sized cathedral that used ornate design and expensive construction materials.  Even simple things such as roof pitch can make a difference. One moderate sized church project was able to save $28,000 by changing the roof pitch from 8:12 to 4:12 pitch.

Here are only a few of the many variables that can affect the cost per square foot in building a church.

  1. Total Square Footage – there are economies of scale in bigger building projects
  2. Location – Building costs differ based on location due to differences in building codes, availability of builders, environmental factors, and other reasons
  3. Style and Amenities – Dramatic architectural elements, features and amenities can substantially drive up costs without adding to square footage or functionality.
  4. Total Volume – High walls and ceilings, and steep pitched roofs add to the cubic footage of the building without changing the amount of square feet of building.
  5. Special Considerations Site work, utilities, legal fees, land costs, soil types, single or multi-story: All these factors and more can effect the project cost and therefore the cost per square foot.

Site work is a large and extremely variable line item in a church building budget. One church may have $80,000 of site work and another, for a similar sized building and parcel, may have cost of $280,000. For this reason, you should probably not include site work in the building cost. However, this brings up an interesting point.

What the church needs to focus on is total project cost, not just building cost.

“Overly focusing on building cost per square foot can be misleading at best and dangerous at worse. The building itself is a certainly a large part of the project, but it is far from the whole project. Professionals familiar with church design can get into the ballpark of cost per square foot (once the church has done some preliminary needs analysis and a concept plan is developed), but the church needs to remember to focus on the total project cost, not just an arbitrary and poorly defined number assigned as the building cost.”
The above is an excerpt from the book,  Preparing to Build 

Good process would dictate that the church understand what it needs to build and can afford to build prior to getting into the design of the building.  Once the needs and ability of the church are determined through a needs and feasibility study as part of a church design consulting engagement, it will be possible to develop a project plan that best meets the needs within the constraints of the budget.

Church Testimonial

Without speaking in exaggeration or hyperbole, Steve Anderson of AMI Church Consulting saved New Hope Church at least $1,000,000 and who knows how many hours of frustration and endless dead-ends, not to mention the discouragement that accompanies those problems. That’s just what we saved. Because of Steve and his objective needs and feasibility process, New Hope Church also gained a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, which led to a customized strategy for an expansion phase. I shudder to think of the mistakes we would have made, (let alone the dollars that would have been wasted) without Steve and this engagement.
John Brock, Pastor Emeritus, New Hope Church

At the end of the day, a church pre-design consulting engagement can help you first determine what you can afford, and then help create a design that will fit the budget based on things learned through the discovery process. However, the only way to really know what your project will cost is to fully develop church building plans and a site plans and get bids on the project. Anything else is a guess that will vary from widely optimistic to well reasoned – but still a guess.

Raising Money To Build

Abundant Giving Church Capital Campaign Logo SM

If you are looking to raise money to build a church and want to do it in a way that honors God, respects your congregation, and is sensitive to the culture of your church, check out Abundant Giving.  Abundant Giving is a proven stewardship campaign solution that is flexible and effective.  Read what other churches have to say on our testimonials page.