CHURCH BUILDINGS AND GROWTH

Ronald C. Mahurin


    In our approach of the subject before us, church buildings and growth, we shall give consideration to the church's responsibility in this area. In other words, we shall be dealing with human responsibility rather than the Divine or Spiritual aspect. We shall assume that all of us are committed to the premise that it is God who builds the church, and that He does so through human instrumentality. Whenever a congregation is faced with the possibility of expanding its facilities, it would appear that they must deal with at least four questions:


1. Are we receiving maximum use of our present facilities?

2. Should we increase our present facilities at our present location?

3. Should we build a new church?

4. Should we expand our ministry through a mission or branch church?


The congregation which is purely motivated has at its heart a holy desire to glorify God and serve His church in the best possible manner. This congregation has in mind certain definite needs and goals and they strive to attain them. Before a congregation actually considers building a new structure, some important factors should be considered. Is there a need? The congregation desiring to build should have a real need and that need should be clearly described. The need should be set forth clearly with statistics giving support to it. The need should be talked about and presented lucidly until the entire congregation is aware of it.


Perhaps the first step in a building program is the selection of an Expansion or Building Committee. In selecting a Building Committee, the usual rule "keep a committee small for efficiency" should not apply. All members and groups in the congregation shall be interested in this new project. All groups should be represented on the Building Committee. All those in

in the congregation having special abilities should be considered for membership on this committee, an architect, a contractor, a painter, a plumber, an electrician, etc. Let them express themselves on all committee decisions. Some churches form sub-committees. One group sees the Sunday School needs, another worship needs, another the fellowship hall needs, still another the youth fellowship needs. These committees would give serious consideration to the questions that we have suggested.


1. Are we realizing the maximum potential of our present resources? Could we by changing our program realize a greater use of our present facilities? Would it enhance our growth to offer two Sunday School sessions or two worship services Sunday mornings?


Should we seriously consider a new building or adding to our present facilities if we are not using our present facilities to the maximum? These questions must be seriously pondered and answered.


Let us suppose in answer to these questions, this Building Committee comes up with the answer, we must have a new Christian Education Building. They are now faced with the responsibility of answering the second question.


2. Should we increase our existing facilities at our present location? Their answer might be something like this. Yes, because we have 165 members in our Sunday School and an average attendance of 140. We have 10 classes. These all meet in one room. We have no nursery where young couples can leave their children while they attend church. Consequently, they do not attend often. Our teachers find it very difficult to teach because of noise, the lack of blackboard and teaching facilities. We are not attracting young couples because it is readily apparent that we are not prepared to educate their children adequately.


A well organized Sunday School with adequate facilities attracts young families. Therefore, we feel we need a new Christian Education building. Now we are faced with a new question: How large should the education unit be? The following is the "rule of thumb" that may be used in answering this important question.


Determine the number of people you are planning for in the total program. Multiply this number by 30 square feet per person required. Then subtract the amount of floor space on all levels of the existing building from this total amount. The difference will give you the total number of square feet needed in the education unit.


Suppose a church is planning for 400 in their total educational space. This would require a minimum of 12,000 square feet. Now suppose they have 5,400 square feet in their existing facilities. This would mean that they would have to add a minimum of 6,600 square feet. If a two-floor unit is planned, this would mean 3,200 square feet on each level, which might be a 40' x 80' education unit. How this unit will be attached or even if it should be attached to the existing building will largely be determined by the property available and the placement of the existing building on this property.


Another possibility of expanding your facility is by remodeling your existing facilities, in order to make better use of that which you have. An example of this is what we have done just recently in Denville.


By remodeling the stairway which led into the basement from the rear of the Sanctuary to another part of the building, we gained over 400 square feet of Sanctuary space. This relatively simple alteration increased our seating capacity in the Sanctuary by 25 per cent. At the same time, by removing a closet in the basement which was underneath the stairs, we acquired an additional 200 square feet in our Sunday School area. As a result of these minor changes, we have acquired space to seat at least 40 more in our Sanctuary for worship, and an additional small Sunday School room. I imagine that many such changes have been made to the existing buildings throughout our Conference. Perhaps many more would be made if careful consideration were to be given with regard to the maximum use of existing facilities.


3. Supposing now that the Building Committee has ruled out both these possibilities; that of remodeling your present facilities or adding to your existing building, They may now conclude that it is to the best interest of all concerned and in the best interest of continued growth, to relocate and build entirely new facilities. It would seem that the first step here would be the selecting of a proper site upon which a building would be constructed. What should a church look for in selecting a site?


This question is answered in the January-February, 1966, issue of Your Church magazine, "The gas stations and supermarkets indeed any prudent business makes a careful study before it buys or leases any property. Working with marketing analysts and city and county planning staff, they determine their potential market existing or potential competition, and above all, accessability and visibility of possible locations."


Can the church afford to do less? Apparently it is trying to when we see struggling churches tucked away on back streets. "How did you get back here?" is a frequent question asked churches. The all-too-frequent answer is, "It is the only cheap lot big enough for us in this area, or Sister so-and-so or Brother and Sister so-and-so graciously left us this piece of property." The shopping centers and gas stations reject these premises. They are looking for sales results, success. They will pay a premium for the right property. Should the church do less? Now that "right property" for the church will vary, of course, with the community, land available, price, and other factors. But here are some guidelines to indicate direction in the selection of a site for church construction. Again, we are quoting from the Your Church periodical.

 

"1. The church site should be visible to the great majority of people living in its planned parish. It should be seen automatically, daily by most of these people on the way to work, shopping, or general travel, This usually means it should be on a main artery, preferably at or near a main residential intersection. A location on a hill or knoll overlooking such an intersection is sometimes desirable. Visibility of the planned church is of vital importance in the selection of a site.

 

2. The church should be also easily accessible to all the people in the perish. The right piece of suburban church property would also, in the opinion of many church leaders, be next to, or at least near a school and if by proximity and arrangement, the school parking lot can be used for Sunday morning volume parking, then a savings in land and paving can be made." (Denville Lutheran Church)

 

Some churches located next to shopping centers, closed on Sunday, have similarly made use of their parking area. But the most important benefit of locating next to a school or a major shopping center is visibility, being-related to the greatest concentration of people.

 

3. Ideally the church site should have some natural character which will lend beauty and identity immediately. Thus a site next to a stream or possessing a grove of trees or perhaps A rocky knoll could be planned more attractively than a bare flat lot. But it must be large enough so that the space demands for building and parking do not destroy the various amenities it was bought for. Of course, with good site planning and tree planting, even a bare flat lot can become a beautiful location in time.


Visibility, accessibility to the whole parish, location next to concentrations of people, and existence of some natural character, then, are four guidelines in selecting the best site for a church. Depending upon circumstances, emphasis will be placed on one or more of these. We would do well to learn a lesson from the business world and their methods of selecting a site. We ought to be willing to pay a premium in order to get the right property.


Experience has indicated to us that a word of caution relative to the size of the site is in order. Many of our churches today are experiencing difficulty in regard to adequate parking facilities. Joseph H. Kimble writing in the 1965 October issue of Christian Life Magazine asked this question:


“How much space does parking require? On a square footage basis, you should allow 300 square feet per car in the total parking area. As an example, let us say that you plan eventually a sanctuary for 600 people. Using the 1 to 4 ratio, you would need room for 150 cars on your own property. One hundred fifty cars at 300 square feet per car would require 45,000 square feet, or slightly over an acre of ground for parking. It is imperative that adequate parking facilities are available if the church is to enjoy continued growth.


4. There is yet one more question that faces the Building Committee. This is the question: Should we start a branch church? Should we start a mission work?


In an article entitled "Why Churches Must Multiply" by Joseph Kimble in the January 1965 issue of Christian Life, we quote, “There are at least three reasons supporting the need for intensified church extension activities. First, it offers a stronger foundation for foreign missions as the home base is broadened, this literally means more money available for foreign work.


Second: We must go where the people are in our own country. There have been tremendous population shifts since world War II. We must go out to reach the people rather than wait for them to came to us.


Third: There is a personal individual spiritual responsibility far evangelism. Church extension through the local church gives vent to that need. Members of a local church can participate personally with their time, talents, and money in getting a new church started."


I believe our churches ought to be in the business of branching out and organizing and building new churches. I believe that one of our greatest needs today is to see more and more churches established in various communities. This does not advocate small churches as such, what it does advocate is the extending of the present church. I believe it should reach out and start new churches; in turn these new churches can grow and in time they can reach out and start

additional churches. This works like cell division. The New Testament standard follows closely God's law of life, dividing itself. When a cell divided, the new part becomes as big as the original. I am well aware of the objections that come to starting a new work... money, or the lack of it, is always suggested as a great deterrent. The process of opening new churches does not need to be expensive. A new work can begin in a home or other suitable buildings. Personnel need not be a deterrent. You can use a night that is not an active night in your present program and use people within the present congregation in establishing a new work in a new and nearby community. This is a method that God has greatly used in the building of new churches.


Quoting again from the May, 1964 issue of Christian Life in an article entitled "You Can Build Branch Churches": "There are churches like the one in Chicago which was started a few years ago with 12 members. When their flame built this to 100, they divided and continued spiritual fires in two locations. It worked so well that each of these two divided. Today, there are 12 churches in this group. They kept their flame alive by starting other churches. I am reminded of a church in Rockford, Illinois, another in Eugene, Oregon, one in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and another in Pontiac, Michigan and others across the country that have already expanded their ministry by starting some 5 to 35 other churches in the area surrounding them."


Pioneering a new work is not necessarily expensive. A home can be used, a school room can be used in some areas. Oftentimes, community buildings are used. Small economic first unit churches can be constructed at a very reasonable cost. Pioneering a new church will require several things. It will take prayer and the Holy Spirit. Don't try it without much prayer and the assurance of His guidance and blessing upon the project.


It will also take planning. It could very well fall flat unless you take time to map out your strategy. It will take people, not many, but a few dedicated pioneers who together believe God that this is what they must do.


Having viewed these four questions in a general way, I should like to now turn your attention to the matter of church building and growth in a personal way, that is, to show you examples of churches within the Bible Fellowship Church who have come to a conclusion in regard to these various questions and have set out on a program geared toward church growth.


For instance, we have had churches who have remodeled their existing facilities and have experienced growth. We have had churches who have added to their existing facilities and have enjoyed growth. We have had other churches who have chosen to relocate, build a new church, and have experienced growth, and we have had churches who have divided, extended their ministry into other areas and have experienced growth. The following is a list of churches who have been engaged In a building program and have shown numerical growth both in church membership and average Sunday School attendance.


Church

New Building Year

Average that Year

1967 Average

Harrisburg

1950

115

182

Lancaster

1953

88

128

Hatfield

1955

202

211

Wallingford

1960

202

225

Denville

1962

70

106

Spring City

1965

103

121

Nazareth

1966

119

158



In addition to the above mentioned churches who have built entire new churches there are the following who have added on to their existing facilities.


Church

New Building Year

Average that Year

1967 Average

Sunbury - renovation and addition

1955

252

264

Blandon - Christian Educ. Wing

1960

164

183

Graterford - renovation and addition

1965

151

192


It would appear that an important factor in deciding whether to remodel your existing facilities, build an addition, relocate and build a new church, or extend your present ministry through a Branch work, an important factor should be, which of these possibilities promises maximum growth? Which possibility promises the greatest returns for the money, time, energy, and personnel which will be expended In a building program.