Photo courtesy of  Tambako The Jaguar

Photo courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar

This is an article I’ve waited all year to write. And now that we’re right near the end of 2014, I figured I’d give it a shot. I’ve been part of many church renovations, both as a staff member, a volunteer and now as an integrator. I’ve coached many churches through renovations over the last 10 years as well. These renovations have ranged from simple AVL upgrades to full-scope projects. Among all those projects, I’ve seen a few patterns. Some have been quite successful, others have not. Perhaps the single common denominator to a successful renovation project is that the church properly counted the cost of the renovation before they began it. 

This is, in fact, a biblical principle. In Luke 14:28-30, we read:

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Get Cost Advice from Experts Early

One of the biggest mistakes I see churches make is to try to determine the budget for a project on their own. One church I know budgeted $100,000 for a major renovation. Their thinking was, “Hey, it’s just moving a few walls and adding some doors. How much could it cost?” Then the cost estimates started coming in. By the time it was all done, it was $250,000+ project. They forgot to consider electrical (nearly $80,000), AVL ($60,000), HVAC ($25,000), carpet ($50,000), paint ($10,000) and more. They thought this would be a simple project, done in-house without the need for “expensive” GC’s or project managers. Yet, had they involved some experts early on, the dart board budget would have been revised early or the scope changed. More information, fewer surprises. 

Don’t Tell the Congregation You Can Do Something You Can’t

Another mistake I see churches (OK, mostly pastors) make is telling the congregation all the things that will be accomplished in the renovation before having a firm grasp on what it will cost and whether they can afford it. In one project I’m aware of, the AVL budget was running way over the church’s projections. As the scope was being cut to bring the budget down, the pastor actually said, “But wait…we have to do that part; I promised the congregation we would address it!” 

At this point, the pastor found himself in a predicament. He couldn’t afford what he wanted to do, but couldn’t cut it out the scope either. That meant other items had to be cut, and while that sounded like a good solution, it ended up going quite badly. Make sure you get the budget nailed down before you promise things you can’t deliver. And at least have a baseline that you will do (based on a minimum spend or give amount) with optional add-ons based on additional giving. 

Value Engineer Smartly

Almost all projects will get value engineered to some degree. This is normal, and not entirely bad. A good value engineering job helps focus the energy on the right things, and prioritizes the things that must be done well. I always encourage churches to do the things that are hard or expensive to do a second time. Conduit will never be cheaper to install than when the walls are all open or before the slab is poured. Don’t cut conduit so you can afford more blinky lights. Often, speakers systems and dimming systems are expensive, big ticket items with high ancillary costs. Do those as part of the big project while saving budget on smaller items like mic’s, lights and even consoles. It’s a lot easier to drop in a new lighting or audio console a year later than it is to hang a new PA or install a power and DMX distribution system for a new LED lighting rig. 

This is where a good integrator can really help you. They know what items and systems carry costs beyond simple equipment, and can help you phase installations well so you get maximum value. It really helps to do this ahead of time, however. 

Plan for Contingencies

Things will go wrong during the project. Some things will take longer than allotted. There will be unexpected surprises when you open up the walls. Subs won’t show up when scheduled, which will throw off the timeline. The structure you thought was there won’t be. This happens all the time. Smart builders will always add a contingency amount to the budget to account for the unknowns. As a church, you should also plan on a contingency. Not only for the problems that come up during the project, but also for the, “While you’re here…” items. You know, while you’re here putting in all new lights, can we address our video recording system, too? Or, while you’re here re-building the stage, can we re-build the baptismal at the same time? Sometimes these are easy adds, sometimes not. But be prepared. Things will come up.

No one wants to come down to the last few week of a project and find out it went way over budget. By doing some of the hard work up front, you can minimize that risk, and be much better stewards of Kingdom resources.


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