By Vicki Brown
Some churches, it seems, are impervious to prevailing economic forces that have kept many congregations building for years.
But not Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California, which recently accounted a three-year, $71 million fundraising campaign to, in part, construct a three-story training center, the Orange County Register reported.
But that’s California — and that’s Saddleback, a multi-site megachurch with thousands in membership.
Repurposing irrelevant spaces
Elsewhere, as congregations continue to face lean economic times, they look for ways to stretch their dollars — particularly as facility needs change. Many are opting for renovating existing space, rather than building new.
Generally, renovation is less expensive, Doug Kouba of Kouba + Knoop Associates Inc., an architectural firm in St. Louis, noted. But church leaders should consider ministry needs.
“So repurposing existing spaces that have ceased being relevant to ministry or modernizing tired spaces to make them more visually appealing has become a terrific way to re-energize old buildings into effective tools for ministry,” Kouba said.
Churches can add flexibility to worship areas by removing or replacing elements that have been standard for years. The low wall in front of the platform, the organ and the piano in the sanctuary can be removed.
Some congregations have replaced permanent choir risers with modular ones. Congregations are giving up pews for stackable chairs, he said. Modular walls, particularly for educational space, also allow more flexibility.
Flexible options permit congregations to change worship and other space nearly as often as they wish. “This new freedom allows the potential for extremely creative worship and multiple functions in the same space,” Kouba added.
‘Green act of stewardship’
Renovation can take several forms. Some churches are taking the multi-campus approach. Rather than building larger facilities, these congregations start satellite campuses in other communities.
Together, they form one body while creating community and meeting specific needs in the satellite neighborhoods. Often, satellite congregations meet in former businesses or other repurposed buildings.
Some congregations also choose to renovate, rather than build a new facility, to maintain ties to the strength of the past.
“Renovation is a good way to maintain the history of a congregation,” Kouba said. “The old buildings are a strong connection to the past and can be an Ebenezer to what God has done in the congregation’s history.”
Repurposing a building — converting the sanctuary into a fellowship hall or a chapel, for example — allows the congregation to maintain the historical tie. Building reuse also can be a “green” act of stewardship.
By renovating rather than constructing new facilities, the church also may save the cost of new landscaping or parking lots.
But renovation often may cost as much as starting from scratch, depending upon the age of the current building, local government requirements and ministry vision.
The desire for flexibility and to utilize modern ministry options may push the costs higher.
“Chairs are generally more expensive per seat than a standard pew. Operable walls cost considerably more than a stud and drywall partition. But if it allows multiple uses of a single space, it can be well worth it,” Kouba explained.
Technology needs also could push costs upward, particularly if major changes would be required.
Meeting building codes also can be a factor in choosing renovation or new construction, noted Springfield, Mo.-based architect Ross Williams. Depending upon how updated codes are applied, renovation could cost more than constructing a new facility.
Though building codes are seen as a city requirement, most counties have codes, either directly or indirectly, Williams added. The fire marshall in counties without established building codes often sets them indirectly and requires they be followed for approval of the work.
“Most renovation is primarily cosmetic. Otherwise, the church would have to bring everything up to code,” Williams said. “Codes in general are becoming more restrictive.”
He added that a good rule of thumb to follow is that if renovation will cost 50 percent of the value of the building or less, renovating will be less expensive than new construction on a per-square-foot basis.
— BNG assistant editor Jeff Brumley contributed to this story.