The Worst Way to Design & Build a Church

I have seen a number of articles recently that echo what I have been saying all along, that the “traditional” Design/Bid/Build (DBB) model is not the way to build churches. In DBB, the church hires an architect to design a building. That design is then put out to bid to a number of contractors. The winning bidder then builds the church.

As explained, it seems like a good way to go, but in reality, this method will take longer, cost more, cause more conflict, and reduce the church’s satisfaction with the process. What happens in almost every church building project done this way is the architect over designs the building and produces a building that the church can’t afford. After the design goes to bid, the church receives multiple bids that are typically 2x – 4x what the church can afford. The design goes back to the architect to be redesigned. The revised plans go back to bid and (hopefully) a reputable builder can price the job near the church’s budget. The builder then helps the church value engineer the building to bring the project within the church’s budget. Once again, the changes are done by the architect, and guess what, you pay for the changes again. In fairness, what I have described is the typical experience of most churches, some architects may charge differently.

For a church that does not clearly understand what they need to build and what they can truly afford, it will most likely spend tens of thousands of dollars on plans it cannot build and then spend even more to get plans that will work for the church. The best thing would be to have completed a church needs and feasibility study before talking to an architect or builder.

A lot of architects don’t like what I have to say. However, the majority of architects that specialize in churches absolutely agree with my position. A number of these offer stock church plans at huge savings and/or offer services to the church at rates that are 35-50% or more below “street price”.

Many of those who are now writing articles in the church magazines decrying the traditional Design/Bid/Build model (what I have been telling churches for years) are promoting the Design/Build (DB) model for building a church. While better than DBB, DB has it’s own unique potential drawbacks. In a seminar this week, I was able to help a church save between $300,000 and $500,000 by explaining how modify the way they did the Design/Build contracting for their on a $4.5M project.

In a follow-up post, I will describe the best way to contract for a church building project.

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