By Dave Milam
If you’re like most leaders, nearly everything you’ve learned about architectural design and construction you’ve either picked up from HGTV or discovered by hanging drywall on a mission trip.
Perhaps you researched Nehemiah’s leadership in rebuilding through seminary or Christian college classes. But somehow, you were never trained for the modern-day rigors of leading a building project.
Though many church leaders know how to exegete Scripture, most are not prepared to lead their congregation through the treacherous terrain of selecting an architect.
This single decision can ultimately shape ministry for generations to come. Before you hire your architect, evaluate the architectural candidate by asking and answering these questions:
1. Does the architect hold an active architectural license in your state?
I’ve talked to pastors who’ve paid hefty bucks for architectural services only to discover they threw money out the window for plans they can’t use. Imagine explaining that little snafu to your tithing church family.
Technically, an unlicensed firm should never draft a proposal for master planning or architectural services without the proper licensure. Make sure to keep your distance from any company willing to risk their license and integrity just to get the job.
A precise “yes” or “no” question should resolve any mystery about a potential firm’s status. If the firm is evasive or replies “no” to this first question, just move on.
There’s too much on the line. Don’t risk it.
2. Does the architect specialize in what you’re building?
You would never hire a pit master to bake your wedding cake. Though he might be a wiz in the kitchen, only a skilled pastry chef has the culinary chops to do this.
This decision is no different.
If you’re building a school, hospital, or theme park, it makes sense to hire the team that specializes in those environments. If you’re designing a church, it only makes sense to hire an architectural group that knows how to outfit your team to accomplish the specific ministry goals God has placed in the hearts of your leadership.
Church buildings tend to encounter more design complexity than most buildings. Churches need parking lots with fast turnover, performance venues with exacting technical specifications, and children’s environments that are safe and engaging.
Make sure to hire a team with the specialized knowledge required to get this right the first time. Otherwise, you’ll be fixing the architect’s mistakes for years to come. In fact, right now, you may be living in the wake of someone else’s cut-corners.
Also, choosing the right team for a project of this magnitude is good stewardship. If the leadership is going to raise the bar and call the congregation to make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the mission, make sure to choose a team with the specialized knowledge to design it right the first time.
3. Who will design our project?
The person who sells the job is rarely the one who draws the job.
Gorgeous 3D renderings and photos of finished projects tend to have a mesmerizing effect. As I travel across the country, I’m shocked by how rarely clients ask about the specific artist responsible for the work.
Don’t miss this.
Make sure to be precise with your questions:
“Who will design our project?”
“Did he or she produce these renderings we’re seeing?”
“May we see specific examples of the work created by the person who will be working with us?”
4. Are we getting a hired gun or an architectural team member?
When you go white water rafting, there’s a big difference between the person who rents the boat to you and the guide who runs the rapids with you. Always hire the people who are going to get in the boat and help you navigate the river.
Most churches don’t hire someone to draw up a building and walk away. They want someone invested in the vision who cares about kingdom impact. Building the “next phase” is about more than just bricks and mortar. It’s about the next generation of lives changed.
Avoid the architect who is gunning to draw a “work of art” for their portfolio instead of listening to understand so they can play a role in God’s unique plan for your church and your community.
Partner with a team that understands the nuances of ministry life and that can speak your language. The quickest way to know whether you’re getting a hired gun or a team member is to ask the architect to explain their entire design process in detail.
5. How will the architect manage the budget throughout the process?
Because architects spend most of the day at a computer dragging a mouse instead of on a job site swinging a hammer or ordering building supplies, it’s almost impossible for your designer to consider a construction budget without real-time field intelligence.
Architects are rarely informed about the rising price of steel or the shortage of drywall mud due to drought conditions. Construction budgets change faster and more often than iPhone updates.
Unless you’re ready to write a blank check, make sure your designer has a plan and accountability for managing the budget throughout the entire design process.
6. Has the firm been recognized by the industry for their work?
In the church design world, architects can receive something called the “Solomon Award.” It’s the architectural equivalent of an Oscar. The award is recognition of the team by the professional design community for excellence in their work.
Be sure to ask the architect if they have a couple of these trophies or if they’ve been recognized some other way. Double check to make sure they actually earned the award for architectural work and not another type of design.
7. Are you inspired by the architect’s work?
Take a moment to peruse their portfolio. Do you find yourself dreaming a little as you see completed projects? Can you imagine ministry housed in the walls of their work? Did God stir your heart?
If not, keep looking until you find yourself inspired.
Be diligent about asking and answering these seven questions as you take the first steps of your building project. These tests will help you interview, evaluate, and eliminate architectural candidates until you are left with one that will help your church fulfill the vision for ministry God has given your church.
- 7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a General Contractor
- Can Guests Find Their Way at Your Church?
- 7 Mistakes Leaders Make During a Building Project
Visioneering Studios grew out of the desire for the church to regain a leadership position in culture. Since its inception in 2002, Visioneering has grown into a national faith-based design-build firm offering its suite of services to churches, nonprofits, and commercial businesses alike.