Grasp the Vision

If you understand anything from reading this article, understand you must have a vision for your church. Many of us are naturally visionary people. However, being reminded to actively contemplate and pursue our vision is important. Let’s not forget to think big. Don’t underestimate the extent of your church’s potential for ministry in your community. Most churches remain the same size for years and years because they have not acted on their vision, or properly communicated it to the congregation. They lose people out the door as fast as they come in the door. Motivated people will generally not remain in an unmotivated church. People in the congregation want to “know where the church is going.” They want to know that there is a plan of action. You would be amazed at how easy it is to get people involved and excited about your church when they understand the church’s purpose and direction.

Over the years, I have observed that a lack of vision is not usually the problem, rather, a lack of wisdom. Let me explain what I mean by that. If your church is in a community of 500 people, it is probably safe to say that the Lord would not call you to build a 3,000-seat sanctuary. However, the importance of having and communicating your vision remains the same. Vision for ministry and the number of people who attend your church are not always related. For those of us who live in larger communities, we have no excuse. We must think big and we must not feel guilty about thinking in numbers. Our God is big and thinks in big numbers. Souls, and the number of them, are important to Him. God paid too big a price for us to think small.

Location, Location, Location!

Pay attention, this is huge! We can all recall seeing churches from across the road, but not knowing how to get to them. We have all driven down Main Street U.S.A. and seen small church sign after small church sign pointing down the side street to the church’s location. The whole time you’re wondering, where is that church? Actually, the corner is where the church should have been built, not the sign! Also, remember that corner locations are desirable and, if possible, located among good neighbors such as: housing developments, apartment complexes, schools, and other neighborhood type facilities. The following are some important things to remember as you select your new church campus site. Make no mistake, location is everything, and your selected location should speak directly about your church’s vision and ministry.

Lots of Land

he old rule-of-thumb says that you will need one acre for every 100 people (seats in sanctuary). This formula is adequate, provided your site topography is all able to be developed. Once you have fully developed the master plan, buildings and parking, you will still have room for a ball field, walking trail, and other amenities. This formula is based on a 2-to-1 parking ratio (one car for every two people in the sanctuary seats) and takes into account any strict local landscaping requirements. In today’s society, so many families are two and three car church-attending families. You should find this formula safe to use for pre-planning, but make sure you add acreage for additional master plan items such as a retirement center, Christian school and other facilities.

Site Size

I have worked with several churches whose property was very skinny and very long, or oddly pie shaped. Keep looking, you can find a better piece of property than this! Hills and Valleys No hilltop can be too high and please don’t buy a swamp pond. Drainage is one of if not the most important things to consider when picking your site. For a piece of ground that seemed like a “steal”, you may literally end up spending a fortune on site work to develop it!

Drill Before You Dig-Soil Conditions

Make sure that you know what you are buying and purchase land “subject to” a geotechnical investigation and soil test borings. Some sites may even require an environmental investigation to determine if any environmental abatement may be necessary.


Proper zoning can be a very costly mistake to overlook. Do a little homework regarding the zoning or potential of changing the zoning before you buy. Most city planning departments welcome the opportunity to discuss your development plans in order to assess requirements and eliminate surprises.


Spend some time finding out what utilities are available and count the cost of extending any utilities that are currently unavailable to your property.

Strategic Planning

A well-developed written program with a well-designed master plan is critical to the success of any church project, especially in a situation where a church has outgrown existing facilities and purchased new property with plans to relocate. This opportunity commands a visionary experience that leads to proper planning based on the church’s ministries of today and tomorrow. Goals without action plans are just dreams. Envision your church 10, 20, or 30 years into the future and describe how you see it at those points in time. Some architectural firms have developed unique strategic planning workshops to facilitate the necessary programming information, such as defining your vision, a list of your needs, and project budgets. These workshops often times engage not only the key leadership of the church, but encourage church-wide participation as well. A strategic planning firm in Dallas, Texas, Strategic Dimensions, has even developed a computerized strategic planning program that generates several different scenario models based on facility size, demographics, growth patterns, financing, fundraising, project costs, debt service, and cash fl ow. These models are so sophisticated that they allow real-time input and modification to explore different choices with instant feedback on the effect of those decisions. The amount of time and knowledge gained in less than 30 days, with this cutting-edge process, is invaluable alone!

Design Time

I can not stress this point enough. Having a well-designed master plan is crucial to the success of your church’s vision and growth of your church. The design of the master plan should be a voice that speaks loudly about who your church is and why it exists! During my years of experience, I have learned that there is “real wisdom and reason” behind master planning. Elements such as: determining the proper building placement on the site, understanding sanctuary orientation options, providing a main focal point for building access, providing good traffic (vehicular and people) fl ow, planning for the expansion of each ministry, and addressing the critical importance of the relationships between each program component. The design should be sensitive to the importance of these things and how they relate to your particular site. Since churches must build in phases, it’s important that all your buildings on campus work together with seamless interruption and purpose for placement. Now that you have defined where you are going, your vision, the master plan serves as a road map that shows you how to get there. Creating a road map ensures your facility will meet your needs for many years to come. It will let you navigate the future, so that it all makes sense. All of these master-planning elements are critical to the church’s success, so remember, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail!

Published in RELIGIOUS PRODUCT NEWS, April 2005