5 Common errors in Master Planning

Master planning is a very important step in the process of church construction, however it is not enough to just have a group of buildings laid out on your site in an attractive, colorful display. There must be substance and thought behind the rectangles that represent current and future buildings, parking, and green areas on your site. Here are some problem areas many master plans fail to handle correctly.

1. Balance:

As churches create their master plan the church may be outgrowing the current facilities. The need for additional space is immanent. Future additional growth must be planned for. The problem with many master plans is that they meet the need for space in the area feeling the current pinch, but fail to address a plan for how to anticipate the demand for future space in other areas properly.

For instance, the church may feel a pinch in the area of adult Sunday school space, but they fail to recognize that if that situation is taken care of, the preschool space will very quickly also be outgrown. Be sure to look at all areas and anticipate that all areas of the church will proportionately grow over time. Preschool, children, youth and adults tend to make up a certain proportion of the church attendance and each one should be evaluated and included in each phase of the facilities.

In another example the need for additional worship space may be the hot-button on the minds of the leadership, but they may fail to recognize that even as that problem is addressed, other areas will also have to be addressed to maintain balance and allow healthy growth across the board. Good master planning will consider the balanced growth of the church in each phase. What good have you done if you plan a worship center for 600 if the Sunday school can only handle 200? This imbalance can get compounded when considering the implementation of multiple services.

2. Parking:

When more people come, there will be more cars to deal with. Unless you are planning in an area like mid-town Manhattan, people come to church in their cars and we must plan for that fact. It is a relatively simple task (that is often ignored) to count the people in your building and the number of cars to determine the appropriate ratio for your congregation. (Most churches will have in the neighborhood of about 1.8 to 3 people per car.) This makes it easy to know how many parking spaces you will need when your attendance reaches X. Unfortunately, some churches allow the city to dictate the number of spaces, and that may be woefully inadequate.

3. Priorities:

There is often at least one contingent in the church with a certain agenda wanting their pet project to be the focus of the master plan. A youth building, a gym, Sunday school rooms, a fellowship hall, or even a worship center can be inappropriately placed ahead of other needs that should be a priority in order to put the church in the best position to flourish. While each may be helpful and appropriate at the right place and time, to allow them to take precedence over another more critical need could be a costly mistake.

Sometimes there simply isn’t enough land to put everything you could want on the site. The church must set some priorities to establish what they consider important. To maximize limited land areas, the church may need to forgo the erection of a gym in view of a future worship facility, for instance. This should be foreseen early in the master planning process to recognize and avoid the temptation to get sidetracked from the appropriate priorities along the way.

4. Cost:

Buildings cost a lot of money! In other earth-shattering news, churches have limited resources. It seems some mater planners fail to recognize these facts. Plans are made for worship facilities that are way beyond the means of the church to ever realize. It is possible to project the income on a per capita basis and thus the affordability of any future construction. (Usually about 3 or 4 times the annual income of the church is feasible.) Your master plan will fall apart if financial feasibility is not taken into consideration. But fear not! Almost any project can be broken down into affordable phases. Just don’t ignore the necessity of taking things in bite size pieces within your means.

5. Connections:

How buildings connect to one another and to the parking areas is critical to a successful master plan. As the church grows through phases over the years, each area will need to connect to additional space. Preschool expansion will need to connect to the existing preschool area, people should not have to walk through the preschool area to access other areas of the church. Entrances will need to accommodate access from the parking areas and lead in a logical way to the various areas of the church. How will people get from the parking lot to the education rooms, to the worship center and back to the parking area? Good connections need to anticipate the traffic load passing through these hallways and connection points. Failing to consider how things connect makes for poor planning and potentially disasterous outcomes.

Some plans fail to plan well in the parking lot. People should not have to cross multiple lanes of traffic to access the building. Avoid directing too much traffic between the parking areas and the building. Otherwise, people will be endangered just trying to cross the driveway to enter the building.

At best, failure to secure a good master plan could result in its being discarded once you realized it was inadequate. At worst, it could cause the church to build the wrong building or in the wrong place resulting in limitations to the health and/or growth of the church in the long run.

There is a lot more to good master planning that simply placing a few rectangles representing buildings on a site plan. Keep in mind the above items to make sure your plan is one that will help you strategize well for the present, knowing that the future will not be hampered by the failure to consider some important areas.