Church Design

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: Permits

Though we are covering the church building process, step by step, it’s important to note that not everything involved follows a linear order. In some steps we’ve discussed, lots of tasks can be accomplished at the same time as other ones. While the main task now is getting the funding for your new church building or church remodeling project, it’s also time to get the right permissions to begin construction, and that means building permits.

Building Permits and Zoning Requirements

When it comes to permits, we need to note one thing. Each city and town is different in terms of its permitting process. In most cases, zoning requirements must be addressed before you can apply for a building permit. Now, in rare cases, you might be constructing a church building on county, instead of town or city, land, where there is no municipal jurisdiction. In this case, you may not have any zoning restrictions. That’s good news, because you don’t have to go through the zoning process, but it also could mean anyone can build something right next door to your church that might not fit in with your church’s vision for the community.

How Long Can It Take to Get a Church Building Permit?

The permitting process can take anywhere from a month to a year—it all depends on the size of the municipality and the process involved. A general rule of thumb is, the larger the city, the longer time you need to allow. We have found that, on average, 50 percent of our clients receive their building permit within six to eight weeks of application submission. But, many in the other 50 percent wait longer.

What Is the Building Permit Process?

Once you have submitted your church building permit application, most states require that your jurisdiction respond to you within thirty days. This does not mean you’ll have an approved permit within thirty days. Most applications are not accepted the first time around. Instead, the jurisdiction will submit a “correction letter,” which asks questions and requests clarification about various aspects of your church design plan and construction documents. You will need to respond to those requests for additional information before your building permit can be approved.

You don’t have to be twiddling your thumbs during this time, however. Instead, you can also be reaching out to various building contractors for bids on your church design and construction. We will talk about bidding more in our next installment of this step-by-step series.

However, in our next post, coming at the first of the year, we’ll take a quick break from this series and fill you in on all the planned i3 webinars in 2019. We’ve already listed the first few on our home page, so you can sign up now. Meanwhile, we wish you a happy and holy Christmas and joyous New Year.

2018-12-18T17:19:47+00:00 December 18th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Design Steps from Start to Finish: Construction Documents

There are many steps to a successful church design and building process. Without paying careful attention to each one, you can end up with a church building that doesn’t meet your needs. So, we’ve been covering all the steps on our blog, from start to finish.

Once you have your funding plan in place, it’s time to generate the construction documents that your church building professionals will need to bring your vision to life.

Turning Vision into a Detailed Plan

During the design phase it was important to plan from your church’s vision. In the construction document phase, we keep the vision in mind but expand it to create a very detailed level of how things work. Each of these detailed plans make up the construction documents.

A List of Church Building Construction Plans

Here are the various types of architectural and engineering documents that will need to be developed.

Civil Engineering: These documents address the property beyond your church building. Engineering designs will address storm water drainage, parking lots, grading (so that water drains through the storm drain system rather than pooling on areas of the property), water and sewer lines outside of the building, and driveways that tie your parking areas to the roads that run adjacent to your church property.

Structural Engineering: These construction documents cover the specific designs of every part of your church remodeling or new building project. In addition to the walls, ceilings, and floors, these drawings must coordinate with water and sewer lines inside the building, the HVAC duct runs, the locations and specific dimensions of elevators, stairwells, doors, windows—the list can seem endless at times, but each element matters.

Electrical Engineering: These documents show the type of electric power service, size of the service and distribution of power through your church building. Besides the basics of lighting and the powering of appliances, you also need to consider where you will want to run audio-visual lines, security systems, your computer network, and your Wi-Fi system.

HVAC Engineering: The type and size of HVAC units, and their location needs to be documented. Also, plans for the size of duct runs and their distribution to each area of the building are included. All the HVAC plans must coordinate with the power requirements in the Electrical documents.

Plumbing Engineering:  Plans will be needed for the types of fixtures, route and size of sanitary lines and water. A gas line, if applicable, will need to be coordinated with HVAC and other equipment.

Interior Design: This is also the stage when you will begin to discuss the specifics of your church building interior design. Where do you want carpeting versus stained concrete or other flooring types? What color schemes will be used on the walls and ceilings? What type of wood will be used for cabinets, counters, and doors?

Preparing for Your Building Permits

These construction documents are all necessary for the next step in your church building process: gaining permits for the construction process itself. Until you have those permits in hand, you cannot begin work on your new church building. We will discuss the specific types of permits and approvals you will need in our next post in this start-to-finish series.

Speaking of what’s next, we’ve just announced the first three topics for the 2019 free i3 webinar series. You can check them out by visiting our home page and be sure to register and mark your calendar for the ones you want to attend. Then, watch our blog. We’ll preview all the upcoming webinars for 2019 in January.

2018-12-11T20:12:44+00:00 December 11th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: Funding

As we continue working through the church building process step by step, it’s time to talk funding. You should now have a good sense of how much money will be required to complete the church building process from the budget developed in the last step. Now it’s time to figure out where that money will come from.

Preparing a Church Building Stewardship Campaign

Obviously, you will need to ask for the funds required to fulfill your ministry vision of a new or remodeled church facility. The funds will come from three basic sources: gifts, pledges, and financing. In order to raise funds in a responsible manner, you will need to plan your stewardship campaign in a wise and thoughtful way. Whether you have knowledgeable attendees in your church who can conduct this campaign or if you hire a consultant (recommended in most cases) to guide and support your efforts, there are some basic elements that will need your attention up front.

Timing Your Church Building Stewardship Campaign

There are certain key elements  to a successful stewardship campaign, and one of them is good timing. You don’t want to raise money in winter because between the holidays and winter vacations, people are distracted by everything else going on — and are likely spending more money than usual, which could make them feel they don’t have funds available to support your church building project.

Summer is also not a good time for a stewardship campaign because many people are away on vacation. Therefore, the consensus of opinion is that the best times to ask for gifts and pledges for your new church design and building project are in the spring or the fall.

Preparing the Way for the New Church Design with Lending Institutions

Financing is an integral element of almost every church building project as raising enough money through gifts and pledges isn’t always possible. It’s important to begin thinking about the financing early, as there will be much financial information you need to gather in preparation for making the loan request. Here is a handy checklist of the different types of materials that you will need to have available when you begin conversations with lenders.

You’ll also want to find a lending institution that has worked with churches before. There are some elements to financing that are specific to churches. Lenders who are not familiar with the differences between thriving and struggling churches, for example, might tend to bundle all types of churches together. This can lead them to offer you either too much or not enough financing than your church’s financial health can truly support.

Much of this funding work can — and should — begin concurrently with the earlier, church design phase. It’s never too early to get a sense of what you can afford and how you will make that church design into a reality.

Stay tuned for more, as the next step in our start-to-finish series will address construction documentation.

It’s also never too early to tell us what else you’d like us to cover in our free i3 webinars. Our 2019 webinar series topics is almost done, so please contact us at to let us know what topics and questions you would like us to discuss.

2018-12-04T15:58:51+00:00 December 4th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design, Financing|

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: Budget Review

This step in our Start to Finish church building series wraps up the church design phase. It’s a very important step because you must be able to afford the new church building or remodeling project you have so carefully designed. A well-thought out budget will not only tell you if your project is affordable, it will also let you know how much money you will need to raise when the time for funding arrives (in our next step).

Your Project Budget Covers Much More than the Church Building

Many church leaders just focus on the construction costs for a church building as if that is the only part of a budget, but there’s more to it. You will also need various permits and pay several fees during the process of approval and construction. If you’re creating a new church design from scratch, you will have expenses involved with preparing the building site for construction. If you’re remodeling an existing church building, costs will be associated with making sure that the old building meets newer building codes and safety restrictions.

Four Elements of Your Church Building Project Budget

  1. The Cost of Construction. The largest and most obvious part of the budget includes site development (preparing the ground, installing utility lines, laying in pavement and sidewalks) and the construction itself. Whether you’re starting a new church design or embarking on a remodeling project, construction includes everything that could not be moved if you were to vacate the building, such as the HVAC system, elevators, paint, and movable walls.
  2. Fees, Permits, and Assessments. These costs cover the requirements to create a church design that meets applicable zoning and building codes for your city. They include soil testing, building permits, and the various types of architectural and engineering drawings during construction as well as permitting once the building work is complete.
  3. Contingency and Inflation. These numbers reflect the likelihood of changes during the course of the project. While everyone hopes that the approved church design will be final, things come up because of the church’s vision and the realities of construction; changes have to be made. We suggest that every responsible project budget include a contingency figure and account for the cost of inflation for construction materials and labor over the course of time it takes to start the construction project. The amount of contingency you set aside depends upon the type of project you are proposing.  Current inflation for the last 12 months has been near 6%.
  4. Owner-Supplied Furnishings. A new church building is great, but an empty shell will not support your vision for ministry in your community. Once the construction phase is complete, you will need to supply furnishings—everything from tables, chairs, and audio-visual equipment, such as screens and speakers, to kitchen appliances and nursery cribs.

Moving from the Church Design Phase to Funding

Once you have well-researched estimates for each of the four budgetary elements above, you are ready to move into the second phase of the church building process, which secures funding for your church design project. In the next post of our Start to Finish series, we will discuss these various elements of funding.

This step-by-step series is inspired by one of our 2018 free i3 webinars and we are currently outlining our 2019 webinar series. If there are topics you would like to see addressed, please contact us at

2018-11-27T22:35:06+00:00 November 27th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Design Steps from Start to Finish: Utilities and Schematics

In a recent, free i3 webinar, we detailed all the steps in the church building process. We’ve been highlighting key elements of that webinar here and with this post, continuing delving into the church design phase of the process with a look at utilities and schematics.

The Utility Review

There are some important church building considerations with regard to utilities. One question to ask is whether there is single-phase or three-phase electricity coming onto your property. This matters from budgetary and future expansion perspectives. Three-phase is more efficient, it can travel through smaller wires, and most commercial motors and commercial equipment require three-phase power. There are also different utility rates for each type of electricity.

Your water source can also have consequences for your church design. City water is generally preferable, depending on the water needs of your church building. You cannot feed a building’s sprinkler system directly off a well without installing some type of storage system with an emergency generator and backup pump—which would be a significant added expense.

Waste water is another consideration. Tapping into a city’s sewage system is easiest, but if you’re out in the country or in a newly developing area of your community, you may have to work through your county health department to get approval for a septic system.

Church Design Schematic Plans

Another important step in the design phase is creating visual representations of what you plan to build. Schematic plans for church designs like the one here, show the relationships of various spaces in the church building. Your church design is created to solve your ministry needs, but it must also meet zoning and building codes in order to be approved. This is why each church building must have a certain number of exits, doors that swing the right way for safe egress, hallways that don’t dead-end, and so forth.

A schematic floor plan shows where everything is located. This includes church building spaces, such as the foyer, the cafe, the offices, and the worship center. It also shows how your church building is going to function. Is the children’s area secure? Are related components of your various ministries located close to one another? Is there enough room for everything to be installed in your kitchen, and does the design accommodate workflow needs?

Church Building Master Plans and 3D Renderings

While the schematic plan for church design is very detailed, it’s not the only useful rendering created during the design phase. Two other types are helpful. The first is a site master plan for your entire property. As you can see here, the master plan includes any future phases of your church complex and how you intend to develop the site over the next ten to twenty years.

The second type is the 3D rendering, which is a very useful tool for your capital campaign. A 3D image like this gives everyone the sense of what your new church building will look and feel like when the project is completed.

The next step in the process is to undertake a budget review to make certain that you can afford to build what you have designed. We’ll discuss that in our next installment. Meanwhile, we are wrapping up the details of our 2019 free i3 webinar series. If there’s something you would like to learn more about, please contact us at 800-625-6448.

2018-11-20T17:19:48+00:00 November 20th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: Building Codes

As we work our way through each of the steps involved in the church building process, we go from looking at zoning codes and focus the spotlight on another important group of regulations – building codes. These are the municipal or state requirements that govern construction. When your church leaders begin to think about the specifics of any new or renovated church design, those building codes need to be part of the conversation.

Building Versus Zoning Codes

How are zoning codes and building codes different? Zoning codes govern what can be built and where. Building codes address how each church building is designed and actually constructed. The purpose of building codes is what the industry calls “life safety.” They make sure everyone is safe while they are in your church building and can get out quickly and safely in case of an emergency.

Unlike zoning codes, which vary by city, most states in the US have adopted the International Code Council (ICC) model codes and standards. This is good news, because it generally means that there’s just one set of requirements that you will need to address. However, there are different types of building construction and each has its own set of ICC regulations.

What Type of Church Building Will You Construct?

Construction type determines which regulations apply to your project. Will your church be built of wood, concrete, or steel? The code requirements for each are based on the potential combustibility of the material.

Also, there are “use group” types to consider, and churches can have many different ones. What the code calls “assembly” is your worship area. What it calls “education” covers your church school classrooms and any daycare facilities, while “business use” covers your various offices.

When you combine these types, the building code has a formula that will dictate what size church building (in square feet) you can construct. It will also determine what type of fire suppression system you may or may not need to have in place. Sometimes you can increase the square footage of your church design if you’re willing to install a sprinkler system in the building. Other times that sprinkler system will be required as part of the building code approval process.

Creating an Accessible Church Design

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA is also a building code. This federal law sets requirements regarding elevators (depending on the size and shape of your church building), doorknobs, handicap access, restroom stalls and sinks, stairwells, ramps, etc.

Another critical building code concern is egress from the building—which means getting everyone out safely in case of emergency. The requirements for sufficient egress options can sometimes come into conflict with church leaders’ desire for security, particularly for children in the church building. This is another reason why involving experienced professionals in the development of your new church design early is a good idea. The McKnight Group is familiar with the range of building codes; what they require for your type of building and how to solve problems and conflicts without violating the rules.

In the next step in our church building “from start to finish” series, we’ll discuss the need for a utility review.

We are also now putting the finishing touches on our 2019 free i3 webinar series (which, earlier this year, is where we first introduced this “from start to finish concept). If there’s a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2019, please let us know at 800-625-6448.

2018-11-13T14:40:55+00:00 November 13th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: Zoning Considerations

As we cover the church building process from start to finish, the next step to look at is zoning. Whether you’re starting from scratch or considering a major church remodeling project, you will need to ensure that your church design meets the zoning requirements for the area of town in which it is built.

Zoning 101

Every city and town in America have their own set of maps showing what can and can’t be built in various areas. While zoning can feel restrictive, it is often put in place to prevent some very frustrating situations. For example, people don’t want a noisy manufacturing facility to be built in the midst of a quiet residential neighborhood. So, it is required that your proposed or current church building meet the zoning requirements for where it is placed.

The Church Building and Conditional Use

In 90% of the zoning classifications we’ve encountered, church buildings are considered conditional use properties. The good news is that conditional classes, not being specific, are not explicitly excluded from most zones in a municipality. The bad news is that because a specific use isn’t specified, it usually means having to go before government authorities to get approval. Sometimes this involves meeting with the zoning officer, while at other times it involves an official public hearing.

Typical Church Design Zoning Restrictions

Occasionally church leaders ask us why they cannot do something with their church design that another church, across town or in another city, has done. The likely answer is that the other church’s zoning regulations are different. For example, in a downtown area with high-rise office buildings and apartment complexes, the building height limit will be higher than that of a suburban residential neighborhood.

Another restriction relates to lot coverage. Some cities restrict a church building with a maximum lot coverage of 20-30% of the available land. If you are looking to expand with a church remodeling project on a four-acre lot, you will need to make sure that your new design does not cover more than one acre with church buildings. This can be less of an issue in a more open space in a residential neighborhood than a restricted space in a downtown location, but still important to consider.

Parking is another zoning requirement consideration. Regulations usually want one parking spot for every three or four people in your worship space. If you hope to expand your church’s footprint in the future, we suggest you allow one parking spot for every two or two and a half people currently in your sanctuary.

Planning Ahead

If you are thinking about constructing a new church building and haven’t yet purchased your land, you should be checking into the zoning requirements for each property you consider. If you have specific questions about zoning, we’re happy to help, so give us a call at 800-625-6448. We also welcome your thoughts on topics we might cover in our free 2019 i3 webinar series. We be announcing the list soon.

Our next step in this series addresses more codes—ones of the building variety.

2018-11-06T19:17:09+00:00 November 6th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design, Remodeling|

Church Building Steps from Start to Finish: The Catalyst

Do it yourself TV shows are very popular, and one reason is that they break down complex projects into a series of simple steps. While church building is never a DIY project, breaking the process down into smaller steps does make it easier to understand what’s involved.

In one of our recent free i3 webinars, we discussed each of the various steps involved in undertaking a successful new church building project. Over this, and the next several blog posts, we will cover that step-by-step information so that you get a clearer sense of how any church building project can be managed.

Have a Catalyst

If you’re going to embark on a church building project, you need to be certain that you’re building for the right reasons. Therefore, the first step is to have a clear understanding of the catalyst for your project. There are three parts to a good church building catalyst:

1. A Clear Vision for Ministry

From the beginning, you need to understand exactly what you’re doing and why. We’ve mentioned before about having this clear vision for your church’s ministry. When your vision is clear and compelling, it’s much easier for the next two parts to fall into place.

2. Unified Leadership

Another critical catalyst element is unity of purpose at the leadership level of your church. All members of your leadership team need to be on board with the focus of the vision for ministry. That way you can truthfully say, “This isn’t just the pastor’s vision. It isn’t just leader X’s idea. This is something that the entire church leadership considers very important. We believe this is the direction God is leading us in ministry for our community.”

3. Identified Ministry Needs that are Hindered by Your Church Building

The final catalyst element is having clearly defined ministry needs. This clarity will help you see where your current church building is hampering each ministry and whether the solution is a new church building or a major remodeling project.

Sometimes the best way to figure this out is to ask questions about each ministry:

  • How does our church building support the ministry?
  • How does our church building hinder the ministry?
  • What changes in our church building would make the ministry easier?
  • If the sky was the limit, how much space would you need for the ministry and what would that part of our church building look like?

While it may not be possible to solve everything at once, you will be able to envision the bigger picture. Then, when you sit down to brainstorm with church design professionals—which is the next step—you will have your dreams and desires in place.

As you can see, our free i3 webinar series is a very practical and useful way to understand the church building process. We are finalizing our 2019 i3 webinar series right now, so if there’s something you would like covered, please contact us at today!

2018-10-16T19:37:19+00:00 October 16th, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Answers to More Church Design i3 Webinar Questions

We get great questions during our free i3 church building webinar series. The answers to these questions can be as informative of the church design and construction process as the webinars themselves. In this post, we answer three more questions that church leaders have asked during recent webinars.

Question 1: Do you have someone on your church building team who helps figure out sound and lighting design?

Clearly audio, video and lighting (AVL) are important elements of any modern church design. We do understand the needs churches have for AVL and how to create a church design that takes it into account. When it’s time to work out the details, we are flexible in how that is handled.

We have AVL designers and contractors that we can recommend. We can subcontract them ourselves and include it in our scope of our work. Or we can recommend them to you, and you can do the interviewing, hiring, and paying directly. We are also happy to work with sound and lighting experts that you might already know and have a relationship with. The key point here is that we’re flexible. We want the best for your situation, so we’re happy to work with you to accomplish that.

Question 2: What is your subcontractor selection process, or do you always build with your pre-selected subcontractors?

The McKnight Group functions as a general contractor for all of our church design and building projects. This means we provide a project manager and project superintendent who work onsite on your church building project.

Most of the actual church building work is done by local subcontractors and suppliers. We go through a competitive bidding process, put together the best package of people and businesses, and present that to you as a single contract with a guaranteed construction cost. This ensures you are getting the best prices from local people.

The selection process involves making sure that the subcontractors and suppliers have the proper amount of people available to do the work, they have a good reputation, they pay their bills, and they have a track record of successfully handling any issues that arise during the work. This way we are responsible for handling their work, rather than relying on church leaders who do not have experience with church building construction.

Question 3: What is the cost of each phase of the church design and building process?

The cost of the initial church design study can vary.  In 2018 we estimate anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000, based upon the complexity and size of the project, and what you are trying to accomplish. Yes, that’s a wide range, but there’s a wide range of problems and situations that individual churches have to address.

Construction documents and construction itself would depend on your actual church design and the budget you have prepared for the church building or remodeling project. The budget will include the architectural, engineering, and building permits, as well as the actual construction costs.

With all of those variables, it’s impossible to give you generic cost estimates for each stage of the church building process without visiting your church and discussing the what you are trying to accomplish. However, you can learn a lot about each of those variables in our free i3 webinars, which is why we encourage you to sign up and join us there to learn more. Meanwhile, if you have specific cost questions related to your existing church design, give us a call at 800-625-6448 and let’s begin a conversation.

2018-10-02T18:58:46+00:00 October 2nd, 2018|Church Building, Church Design|

Addressing Recent Church Building Questions from our I3 Webinars

Joining The McKnight Group for our free i3 webinars is a good idea for many reasons. For one, we cover a great range of information on church building and church design. Another reason is that our webinars give you a chance to ask us questions

In this post, we respond to some of those questions that have been put to our presenters during recent i3 webinars.

Question 1: Do you often suggest tearing down a church building rather than remodeling?

Actually, we seldom recommend tearing down a church building. We do know that, frequently, church leaders and even attendees can come to dislike their church building. Maybe they think it doesn’t present the right first impression now that there’s a new church vision in place. They might be frustrated with an aging boiler or a leaky roof. They might get caught up in church building envy, wanting something new and fresh, like that the ultra-modern church design two towns over.

However, the bottom line is that it almost always costs a lot more to create a new church design and build a new facility from scratch than it does to undertake even an extensive remodeling of an existing church building. If you’re going to be good stewards of your property, it’s usually a good idea to investigate how your current church building can be remodeled with an excellent church design to meet your current needs.

There are a very few exceptions to this rule. If your church building is no longer structurally sound, then it makes little sense to remodel it. This doesn’t just mean the leaky roof; this means the entire structure is too far gone to be salvaged. Another reason that it might make sense to tear down a large, old church building in disrepair is if the congregation has become so much smaller that they literally cannot afford to care for their property—even if it was repaired.

Question 2: Have you ever dug out a basement under an existing church building?

No, and we wouldn’t recommend it, either. It’s technically possible but creating a basement floor under an existing building is an engineering challenge and an expensive proposition.

If you want to expand your existing church building and have very limited land available, the best church design option is to build additional floors, rather than creating a basement. Even if your existing church design requires significant shoring up to support additional floors, it will still be cheaper and a lot less hazardous to build up rather than down.

Question 3: Does The McKnight Group have availability to begin a church building study in the fourth quarter of 2018, for projects that would begin in 2019?

If your preferred schedule has us visiting you by the end of the year that should not be an issue. The completion of a study will vary depending upon the complexity, size and the availability of the land and/or facility documents. A design study typically requires six to ten weeks to complete after all information is gathered. To find out what information we need from you, email us at or give us a call at 800-625-6448.

If you’re not quite ready to take that step, we encourage you to continue gathering information. You can learn a lot from our free i3 webinars, so register for our upcoming events at the bottom of our home page. Also stay tuned, because we will respond to more questions in our next post.

2018-09-25T15:56:49+00:00 September 25th, 2018|Advice, Church Building, Church Design|