Things to Know Before You Build
By Dan Reiland

Those of us who served on the Skyline Church staff in San Diego from the 80's until the mid-90's may have the unique distinction of leading the longest relocation campaign in the history of the modern church. John Maxwell gets the lion's share credit for his extraordinary leadership. Consider the challenge: Move a congregation of several thousand people from a declining and increasingly dangerous neighborhood seven miles east. Not bad so far, but now it gets interesting. There is a force of resistance against us buying land and obtaining proper zoning led by one man, who publicly declared that it was his mission to stop us. For more than ten years John led and grew the congregation, raised millions of dollars, paid for the land without ever knowing if we would be allowed to build. God's favor and John's leadership paid off. The land was rezoned. The environmental impact issues, such as endangered birds, Native American artifacts, and rock hard land that required dynamite, were all dealt with. Dr. Jim Garlow came in 1995 and assumed the leadership mantel of Joshua. He successfully built the buildings and led the congregation on to the promised land! The true heroes--the courageous, generous, and faithful Skyline congregation--overcame the obstacles and the Great Commission carries on!

I learned much from those years, just as I have learned from these last twenty months at Crossroads. Constructing the new buildings was not easy, but at least we didn't have publicly declared adversaries! Once again, the true heroes are the faithful people of Crossroads Community Church who sacrificed much for the sake of the Kingdom.

My hope in this article is to pass on a few things that may be helpful to you and make your building project a little easier.

Things you should know before you build:

The pressure of the process will separate the committed from the uncommitted.

Prepare yourself for the inevitable. Some people will leave your church if you build. Remember the great line in the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it, he will come"? Well, know this. If you build it, some will leave. It's healthy and normal. As pastors, we don't want anyone to leave, but as leaders we are responsible for the advance of the Great Commission. We must be willing to lose some people for the right reasons.

If some people leave because they are uncomfortable about raising large amounts of money, or new building impacts, or change in general, you must be confident enough in your vision to let them go. Don't ignore them or get mad at them. Lovingly give them your blessing to leave and tell them they are welcome to come back at any time. Leave the door open.

The environmental changes your building will undergo will cause your church to seem different even to the insiders and most loyal long-term members.

It's an interesting thing to observe that many of your best people who sacrificed greatly for the building end up feeling a bit displaced or disconnected when it's time to move in. A few of your best people feel downright unhappy as the new doors swing open. It may seem strange, but it's relatively common.

It's like moving into a new home. It's a new environment and things have changed. You may think: "But the church is the same! The leaders are the same, the doctrine is the same, and the values are the same." The truth is they are right. It has changed. You can't change the environment without changing the experience. When you change the experience, a little bit of disorientation is to be expected.

So what is the answer? Prepare them for the coming change. Tell them that it will feel different. Give them a running start to help them make the transition in a positive way. In many respects, each time your church takes a healthy jump in size, your people choose your church all over again. If you stay attentive to this, you can help many of your flock from wandering off!

After the building is complete, it is often more difficult to cast vision and give clear direction.

There is a North American church phenomenon of vision-casting being relatively clear and generally effective when a building is involved, but after the building is complete, vision-casting becomes difficult.

The reason it's difficult to cast vision without a physical building being involved is because the physical building makes the vision tangible. When the vision is not tangible, it becomes unclear. The people become unsure of the direction.

A common comment from a member would be something like, “Now that the building is built, I'm not sure where we're headed.” As if the new building were supposed to be an indication of where you are headed!

This is strong evidence that the vision was not clear in the first place, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. Somewhere along the way, the Great Commission gave way to the Building Commission. Make sure that your vision and direction are crystal clear and that your key leaders support it fully before you start drawing plans, let alone pouring foundation.

It is vital that you know exactly what you want to build.

I strongly recommend that you do your homework thoroughly. One of the best ways to learn what you need to know is to hit the road. Take a trip to study other church buildings. Invest in plane tickets if you need to. They are far less expensive than a building that doesn't meet your needs. I recommend that you gather a small team of five to seven people and travel to see at least ten churches that are roughly the size you want to build. When you get there, don't just take a tour led by a friendly volunteer. Rather, do it with a professional who has vast knowledge of the building and someone who is very knowledgeable about how the building translates to ministry. Request one hour of their time and ask these five questions:

  • What are the three things you wish you had done differently?
  • What are the three things you are really pleased with?
  • What took you by surprise?
  • What did you learn?
  • What's the most creative thing you did that worked?

    The true financial costs of the project will be greater than you anticipated.

    A good rule of thumb is to remember that it will cost more than you think it will cost, even with good planning. I've seen micro budgets controlled by micromanagers and the building still comes in over budget. The only thing I can say to this is to still plan for it.

    You will experience resistance, problems and setbacks.
    Setbacks happen. For example, there are simple things, like unexpected rainstorms, to misunderstandings with county officials throughout the permitting process, to financial shortfalls, to environmental issues, and unhappy neighbors. The list goes on. Don't get discouraged. This is where your faith and prayer life deliver great dividends. You know that the enemy doesn't want you to be successful. A larger building means the potential of reaching more people for Christ. So if everything else went without a hitch, there is a battle in the spirit realm that rages on. Keep praying and don't give up!

    If led well, your church will grow, gain in momentum, and find great joy in what God helped you accomplish.

    The joy is hard to describe. When I walked into our new buildings on Easter Sunday and watched 5,000 people come and go, each one hearing the Gospel over the course of four different services, my heart filled up with indescribable joy. If you have built a building and watched God's spirit pour out and bless you, you know what I mean. If not, I hope that my advice is helpful to you.

    This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at