In one of our recent free i3 webinars, we talked about creating great multisite facilities, including some of the different types of buildings you might consider when you’re seeking to start or expand a multisite ministry. No matter what type you consider, be it a school, theater or commercial building, there are a number of important questions to ask as you examine whether an existing structure is the right choice for your newest church building.
Is It Financially Wise?
One of the first things you should do is compare costs. For example, if you’ve done your research and discovered that it’s going to take half a million dollars to purchase land and build the shell of a new building for your multisite location, you don’t want to look at existing buildings that are going to cost more than that. On the other hand, if you can find a solid existing structure for $250,000, then you may be looking at a feasible opportunity.
Is It Structurally Sound?
The next questions you obviously need to ask are based on the condition of the building itself. For example, are there cracks in the walls, or pieces missing or falling off the building that could indicate shoddy workmanship?
You also want to look for signs of neglect, such as leaks that haven’t been repaired, broken windows and doors, and so on. Along those same lines, look for indications that prior owners of the building were good stewards of their investment. If it’s clear that maintenance has been deferred, you don’t want to take on a building that’s likely to get worse, not better.
Is It Going to Need a Lot of Work in the Near Future?
If you’re going to buy an existing building, you need to think about the age of the major components as well. You’ll want to find out how old the roof is and have a professional take a good look at it, because at some point it will have to be repaired or replaced. It’s better to know now what to expect, and when. Another item to look for is an existing, functional fire suppression system, since having that already installed can be an advantage in the building code and a money saver.
There are other major systems to think about as well, like HVAC and plumbing. See if those components have been well maintained and are functioning properly. If the building is older than circa 1980, you also need to have it tested for hazardous materials like asbestos and lead paint, which can be very expensive to remove if they are found.
Is It Going to Make a Good Church Building?
Even if everything else checks out, you need to ask specific questions about a building’s suitability as a church. Plumbing is one of those issues; if the structure was formerly a retail establishment, you probably won’t have enough existing restrooms to handle your Sunday crowd. Can those restrooms be expanded easily, or would that require a costly major redesign of the entire plumbing system?
Another issue that’s often overlooked when converting existing buildings is the question of sight lines in the gathering spaces. Again, retailers don’t tend to care if there are support columns in the middle of their display spaces; they can easily design their displays around those. But you will need to think carefully about whether you have sufficient clear spaces available in your proposed worship area. Bear in mind, too, that removing support columns in an existing building can be a very costly process.
And don’t forget about the electrical system as you assess potential church buildings. Is it up to code? Equally important, is the system large enough to support all your audio, video and lighting needs?
Learn More—for Free!
Obviously, converting an existing structure into a church building is no simple task or one that can be considered lightly. To learn more about this and other timely church design topics, sign up for any or all of our free i3 webinars, covering everything from elements of effective church design to funding new projects.