Stop! Before you build that new Structure or do major retrofitting of existing space, be sure you have answers to the first two of the three S’s for your next church building. Structure is the third S and should not be answered until the first two S’s have been answered.
Do not!, I repeat, do not fall victim to the most common capital expansion mistake congregations make. Too many congregations are fooled by the mentality that “if we build it they will come”. Their new or retrofitting space is a field of dreams.
In the more than 350,000 congregations throughout North America billions of dollars are spent out of a “if we build it they will come” mentality. Answers the first two S’s are not generally sought before new construction or existing space is retrofitted.
Is your church one of these? Is your church about to become one of these? There may still be time to stop this lunacy.
Luke 4:18-19 does not say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. To proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. To set free those who are oppressed. To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. To build bigger barns.”
Do not misunderstand. I am not opposed to essential, high quality church buildings. Such Structures are needed. Adequate space must exist to engage in worship and ministry. Innovative ways must be found to gather in the marketplace, open spaces, homes, or structures that fit the worship and ministry methodology of congregations.
It is just that it is important to address the other two S’s before Structure is addressed. Doing so is a much better stewardship of the generosity of Christians in response to the graciousness of the Triune God.
Every dollar you spend is an investment in the church you want to create. Every dollar you spend is an action that either affirms the Missio Dei or does not.
What Are the Three S’s?
It is important to remember the three S’s about your next church building or retrofitting project. The three S’s are Strategy, Staff, and Structure. Almost always they need to come in that order. Many congregational and ministry leaders still do not get this message.
I was reminded of this order when a Christian ministry contacted me about helping develop a strategic plan for their new building. They have not yet developed a strategy that deals with the why and how, they do not have any programs, and they are not staffed to operate the proposed building. In this situation there may be time to address Strategy and Staff, and to delay Structure.
Typically there must first be a Strategy that responds to a clear need or opportunity for ministry. That Strategy must be launched. Staff must be put in place to enhance that fulfillment of that Strategy. Only when there is no other way to move forward should Structure be acquired, constructed, or retrofitted to house the program.
Strategy before Structure has been a mantra of many people in the organizational world for decades—if not centuries. I have often used this phrase in personal conversation and group presentations. In Christian ministry settings I would prefer, however, to state it as Ministry Strategy before Structure.
Ministry Strategy is defined as the spiritual strategic direction of the congregation and the disciplemaking processes of the congregation that relates it to God, one another, and the context in which it serves. These are supported by the programs, ministries, and activities of the congregation that provide a framework in which the best possible relationship experiences can occur.
Staff—volunteer and paid—should be put in place to empower and support the Ministry Strategy. Existing space should be used to launch the Strategy. If it works, if it is sustainable, then new or retrofitted multi-purpose space may be needed. Once successful, significant, and sustainable action is attained then it is time for Structure.
While Structure needs to be dreamed about, envisioned as to its particulars, made desirable, and potential funding sources identified, it is not until the new program, ministry, or activity starts maturing that Structure becomes the top priority action.
When Structure comes first or second, the Strategy is often inadequate. The finances that should be dedicated to leading edge staffing go into a Structure that everyone can see and worship. Not always worship in, but worship the Structure itself.
Next: Churches Can RightSize Staff, But They Cannot Blow Up a Building