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Facilities And Property Management In The Local Church

By Merwin Pickney

Important Instructions For Using PDF Forms
PDF forms in this article can be downloaded. These PDFs can be viewed and printed with the free version of Acrobat Reader 6, which you can download at www.adobe.com. However, all information entered into these forms cannot be saved unless you have Acrobat Professional 6.0 or Acrobat Standard 6.0, also available at www.adobe.com.]

The physical presence of the church in the community stands as a towering symbol of faith and hope. Though a well-maintained facility may be but window dressing, to those outside the community of faith it may be the bridge that opens their hearts to the gospel.

For this reason, it is important that churches consider their guests’ first impressions. These impressions start when guests first see the church from the street and end when they drive away after the service. These first impressions include guest parking, parking attendants, signs, greeters, welcome centers, nurseries, and restrooms. The facilities should be accommodating to everyone, including the elderly and people with disabilities. Elevators and wider halls will help make your church a friendlier place. Remember, making a lasting first impression begins with a clean, well-kept church facility.

This article explores these and many other areas vital to managing church facilities. The following information is gleaned from 25 years as a church administrator in three different churches and by attending 22 national conferences of the National Association of Church Business Administration.

User-Friendly Facilities

It is difficult for good worship and preaching to overcome a bad impression on the way to the sanctuary. A first impression includes not only the people encountered but also the facilities through which a first-timer passes. Clean and well-kept facilities are basic but a first-timer’s experience includes the time the church comes into view, the journey to the sanctuary and classes, and the drive out of the parking lot.

The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines "user-friendly": easy to learn, use, understand, or deal with. Architects talk about form (how it looks) and function (how it works). Both are important. Churches have tended to give more attention to looks and little, if any, to user-friendliness. User-friendliness is a part of function, a part that architects and church leadership have generally ignored.

Patrick Clements in his book, Proven Concepts of Church Building and Finance, says, "Try to evaluate the layout of your building from the perspective of a first-time visitor. Look for the ’invisible signs’ that will make your building ’user friendly.’ " The goal in having a user-friendly facility is to eliminate as many irritants to the person who is entering your building the first time. Is it obvious which parking lot entrance to use, where to park, and which building entrance to use? Is the sanctuary easy to find? Are directions to the restrooms clearly marked?

Most pastors don’t have the option of designing a user-friendly facility, so I will enumerate some things most churches can add to their existing facilities.

While the restrooms may not be relocated, clearly marked signs can direct the first-timer to them. As well, the main entry point to the building may not be ideal but a clear method of entry can be provided.

As visitors approach the church, a sign should clearly identify the church, and there should be signs at the entrances indicating which building entry points can be reached from that entrance and directions to other entrances for other facility functions. Clearly marked signs should be at each entry point of the building indicating the functions easily reached from that point. Signs should include arrows showing which way to go. Larger churches should provide shuttles from remote parts of the parking lot.

Once people enter the building is entered there should be spacious "Welcome Centers" that provide multiple sources of information: TVs with infomercials, information tables, signs, and people. Minor remodeling may provide a more friendly entry. At Woodlake Assembly of God in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a frequently used hall entrance was changed into a spacious "welcoming" entry by making two classrooms smaller and eliminating a closet. The addition of skylights and windows also provide a friendly ambiance.

Signs that clearly indicate directions to the nursery, restrooms, and entrances to the sanctuary should be posted. Some doors may need signs indicating "no entry after the service has begun." You don’t want a newcomer entering the platform or in some cases the front of the building after church has started. Newcomers frequently like to sit in the balcony, so signs should clearly indicate the entrance to the balcony. Signs should clearly direct the elderly, disabled, and hearing impaired to the elevator or ramps and to places in the sanctuary reserved specifically for them.

A building directory at the main entrances provides information as to what ministries occur in each part of the building. Doorways to rooms should have signs indicating the room number and what events take place within that room. Entrances and hallway intersections should have directional signs to room numbers. Confining common ministries or age groups to certain areas of the facility provides for less confusion.

How do you know if you have a user-friendly building? Provide your first-timers with a guest survey. Ask them if they had any problem finding a parking place or if they had any problem getting around and finding classes or the restrooms in your building. Ask personal guests how they see your building. Visit other churches and notice the ease or problems you had getting around in their building.

While the church is people and not buildings, an attitude of user-friendly facilities is becoming a concern of both church leadership and church architects.

Buildings

Scheduling Facility Use

If a church makes its facilities available to members and the community, it needs to develop policies and procedures for using its facilities. The facilities calendar is important if spaces are to be reserved and made ready for use. The "Calendaring of Events Request" and the "Room Setup Request" are important communication tools. Filling out these forms help schedule events and prevent conflicting events and use of facilities. They also provide information to maintenance personnel about the needs of each event.

At Woodlake Assembly we allow local organizations to use our facilities. Our facility-use policy details how far in advance we will commit a date to community organizations so their use does not conflict with our own ministries. The Frieze Resource Library includes an administrative manual that provides forms for every area of the church. The Ministry Schedulerfrom ACS Technologies provides an excellent solution for keeping track of events and facilities scheduling. (See sidebar "Resource List.")

Building use policies are important if you intend to make your facilities available to other organizations. These policies ensure facilities are not abused, inappropriate activities do not take place, and specific costs associated with the event are passed on to those using the facilities. At Woodlake,the "Non-Woodlake Activity Request" addresses the following questions:

Fee schedules should include any direct costs associated with the event, including use of kitchen equipment, audiovisual equipment, personnel, utility use, and custodial setup and cleanup. (See Web site: www.nacfm.org/documents.htm and click on Facility Use Cost Analysis.)

Safety

Safety is an important concern when we open our church to community events. Planning and education can help minimize the risk of injury to people attending an event. (For an excellent discussion on risk and ministry refer to the managing legal/risk section.)While we focus on the possible financial loss due to unsafe facilities, the church’s number one concern needs to be the possible harm to one of its members or guests. (See sidebar "Low Walls for High Places.")

A risk assessment is a necessary part of making sure the church’s facilities are safe. A deacon or church leader should be assigned responsibility for building, equipment, and vehicle safety. (See the sidebars, "A Strategy to Reduce Risks—Establishing a Church Safety Team," and "The Safety Coordinator," in the managing legal/risk section.)

Fire prevention needs to be a part of every facilities manager’s duties. Prevention activities need to focus on limiting the interaction of fuels and ignition sources. First, a complete fire risk-analysis survey of the entire facility will identify all combustibles and potential heat-producing devices. The next step is to eliminate or significantly reduce these two elements. Professional assistance is available from your local fire department, insurance company, or a fire-engineering consultant.

To ensure the safety of each member, staff person, student, teacher, and visitor, the church should have on hand a comprehensive safety procedures manual. (For an excellent example of a comprehensive emergency procedures manual go to www.nacfm.org/documents.htm, and click on "Emergency Procedures.")

Security

Almost every church will experience a break-in sometime in its history. Often, the damage caused by thieves breaking in, or the vandalism that occurs after they are inside, far outweighs the cost of stolen goods. On the other hand, the loss of sound and video equipment, musical instruments, and computers can seriously impact a church’s ministry.

Historically, churches were not built with security in mind because we believed even criminals respected God’s house. Designers and church leaders were not concerned with protecting property. Many churches left their doors open around the clock as a place for people to pray and seek sanctuary.

Today, though, churches are extremely vulnerable to break-ins. Criminals realize that churches have property they can market. Most churches do not have security systems and many leave doors and windows unlocked. Older churches may have no security system or their security system may be inadequate or antiquated. Many new churches prioritize funds for design over security.

Though church buildings may have been designed without security features, a few simple practices can help eliminate many losses. A key-disbursement policy is important. Maintain a record of key assignments. Require a signed statement by those assigned a key to not copy or loan keys and to return them at the end of their assignment. Also, periodically change locks.

Poor lighting and poor landscaping offer opportunities for break-ins. Have someone conduct security checks at the end of each day. Since most churches cannot afford to pay people to carry out these assignments, a specific staff person needs to be made responsible for each of these duties.

After assessing risks, some churches may decide to install security equipment or hire security guards. Security systems range from keyless entry systems to burglar alarms. The goal of risk management is to prevent any interruption in ministry. (For guidelines for your church’s safety and security program, see the article, "It Could Happen in Your Church!")

Church Kitchen

Food and fellowship are important events in the life of a church. Since churches differ in food service needs, the design and equipment a church chooses will depend on whether the church has schools, preschools, a soup kitchen, weekly church dinners, wedding receptions, seasonal programs, and community events. What works in a commercial kitchen may not work for the church. Pantries, freezers, refrigerators, and storage units are also important items to consider.

We recently realized our banquet hall decorations were stored upstairs at the other end of the building. A seldom-used athletic equipment closet in the banquet hall was converted into a closet for storing decorations and table linens.

Woodlake provides all the necessities in a kitchen capable of serving 500 at a banquet or wedding reception. Our kitchen is designed with a buffer zone between the kitchen and the banquet hall to eliminate noise and still provide access for table service.

Equipment

Office equipment is key to productivity in any church office. Downtime because of equipment problems is frustrating for office personnel. To wait until equipment quits is not good stewardship. Instead, conduct an annual church-equipment review to determine what equipment will need to be replaced in the coming year. If the item cannot be included in the budget, a member of the congregation or business community might donate a replacement better than the church’s current equipment.

Service contracts add to the purchase price of equipment but can add to the equipment’s life expectancy. When considering service contracts, ask: What is the life expectancy of this piece of equipment? What is the risk of a mechanical problem occurring after the normal 90-day manufacturer’s warranty?

Custodial and maintenance equipment should enable building personnel to carry out their duties with the greatest amount of efficiency and provide safe standards of work. Some key pieces of equipment needed by most church building personnel include vacuum cleaners, single-disc floor machines, floor scrubbers, push carts, brushes, scrapers, mops, buckets, and gloves.

Asset management is an important function of managing equipment. A comprehensive inventory of all furniture and equipment, including serial numbers and value, is necessary to document any losses that might occur. It also provides the documentation necessary to determine church equity on the church financial statement. There are software programs and inventory specialists that provide solutions to this need.

Housekeeping And Maintenance

Housekeeping and maintenance become visible if they are not performed satisfactorily. To those responsible for managing these functions, the critics are numerous. While standards for housekeeping can be established, achieving acceptable levels maybe difficult to attain.

Housekeeping tasks make church buildings and properties presentable and fully usable. These tasks include emptying trash, replacing restroom products, sweeping, mopping, and dusting.

General maintenance and repair include the more specialized tasks of housekeeping. They require skills in moderate repairs and in operating cleaning equipment. These tasks include the use of floor-care machines, repair and replacing water faucets, toilets, lighting equipment, door hardware, and light bulbs.

Preventive maintenance is a related task that also needs to be performed by a skilled person. These maintenance activities are performed at regular intervals and allow equipment to function without interruption. These tasks include inspection and detection of potential problems before they happen and monitoring equipment performance at regular intervals.

Depending on the size of the church, each task may be performed by the same person or by different individuals. Ideally, people with the required skill level will do these tasks. Before tasks can be assigned to personnel, there needs to be a comprehensive list of what needs to be done. A list of weekly assignmentsneeds to be prepared and reviewed frequently. Then those assignments can be given to the available personnel. Another important tool is the "Maintenance/Custodial Work Order." (See corresponding sidebar "Maintenance/custodial Work Order.")This form should be available in several key locations to provide good communication concerning building and equipment needs.

A major factor in achieving these important tasks is adequate supervision. Building personnel need to know what you expect from them, and they will do what they know you will inspect. (See sidebar "Weekly Custodial Assignments.")

The costs associated with housekeeping and maintenance can be a major budget item. The initial cost of a building may be duplicated in maintenance costs in less than 20 years. Housekeeping is an expense with constantly rising costs. But effectively performing maintenance duties is good stewardship of the church’s facilities and allows the church to fulfill its mission.

Architecture

Mathew and Josh Comfort write: "For architects and designers involved in church building, the task is to harmonize the changing face of American religion, the functional requirements of the church, and the enduring need for holy space in which to worship."

Many churches are transitioning from a traditional worship style to a more contemporary style to attract younger people. In many cases, the pastor’s message and the music have made the transition, but the sanctuary has not.

The biggest hindrance to transforming the look of the sanctuary is cost. Churches do not need to build a new building or incur significant indebtedness to make this transition. Simple changes may be the best way to begin. An interior designer or decorator in your church could give you free advice. Painting, moldings, contemporary seating, and technology can help make the desired transition.

City building codes require that most church remodeling and construction projects involve an architect. (See sidebar "The Architectural Process.")

Creative Use Of Facilities

Most churches eventually come to a point where they need to expand quickly. A multipurpose room may be the answer. The church should also utilize 21st-century technology. The intent is to incorporate the feeling and features of the traditional church into a modern, technologically capable building. A preface to these decisions is the process of vision casting and purposeful planning—which is beyond the scope of this article. (To understand how technology and workspace needs should be planned with growth in mind, see the excellent article by Nick Nicholaou, "Ever Get Locked in a Closet?")

Drama ministry has become an important ministry in many churches. Fundamental decisions must be made regarding where drama activities will take place. If your church is like most, your drama program shares space with your worship center or with a multiuse assembly hall. If you plan to host drama programs in a multiuse room with a flat floor, this room is also likely used as a gymnasium, banquet room, cafeteria, lecture hall, dining hall, and contemporary worship setting. Some of the logistics with a multiuse room include noise from adjoining spaces and constantly reshuffling chairs, tables, and equipment.

Woodlake recognized during its Vision 2000 process that its 25-year-old facility was out-of-date and showing wear. After having a professional evaluate its facilities, Woodlake decided to do the following:

The youth facility was built in a residential area so it could be marketable separate from the church when the church decides to relocate. The church also began to look for land that would accommodate its expected 10-year growth. These changes were functional, fun, and with ministry to the community in mind. The results were beautiful, high-tech facilities accommodating 1,000 worshipers for a cost of about $750,000.

Parking Lots

Your parking lot’s appearance and the ease in which people can park their cars is important in leaving first impressions. The church parking lot should be noticeably different from a commercial parking lot. You want people to feel they have entered a church when they turn in off the street. Curving driveways, landscaping, signs, and parking attendants can help accomplish this experience.

The placement of parking lots is important. Parking lots need to be visible from the street. If possible, provide a drop-off point under a carport or portico at the main entrance to the church. For overflow parking, have a satellite parking lot and provide shuttle service.

A church parking lot should be planned with as much vision and creativity as its worship center. Parking for guests, people with disabilities, and the elderly should be well designed. Churches need to also take note of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for parking lots. (See Americans With Disabilities Act Web site: www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm.)

Build/Relocate

Rick Warren says that one of his church’s goals "was to prove that you don’t need to build a building in order to grow a church." He says, "Only pastors like really huge church services. Normal people prefer more moderate-sized services."

We need to realize that the 20th-century church building probably won’t meet the needs of the 21st-century church. Warren pioneered the relocatable concept in the early 1990s by constructing children’s facilities with clear span structures. The structures could be erected quickly on a parking lot or on a concrete slab. As the church grew, the buildings could be relocated or reconfigured.

A relocatable structure is not merely a temporary facility; it can serve as a semipermanent or permanent space solution. The materials and the engineering scheme allow the structure to be disassembled and rebuilt, reconfigured, or even resold, allowing the church to conserve its investment. These structures are so well-constructed that they have been tested to be fire retardant, can withstand extreme wind loads, are insulated to a rating of R-30, and have a life span that can exceed 20 years. This structure appeals to churches experiencing rapid growth, locating to a new site, or trying to facilitate growth by appealing to a younger generation. There are three main advantages of these structures—time, price, and flexibility.

Things that a church needs to evaluate when considering a building program are capital-development programs, architects, contractors, city zoning and planning, board meetings, and business meetings. (See sidebars, "Revisiting Church Master Planning" and "MasterPlan Stewardship Services.")

Ted Heaston, senior pastor at Woodlake, relates his experience in building programs at two different churches: "In both cases, the greatest challenges for us were changing the service schedule from a multiple service schedule back to one service after we entered the new building . . . dealing with people’s expectations about the new building . . . and personal disappointments about the way the building actually felt when we moved in."

The stewardship of buildings and equipment, building policies and procedures, and creative facilities planning are crucial to the ministries of the church.


Merwin Pickney, FCBA, is the minister of administration at Woodlake Assembly of God, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the executive vice president of the National Association of Church Business Administration. The author can be contacted at mpickney@woodlakeag.org.

 

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