5 Discussion Topics Surrounding Placemaking: Becoming a Place People Remember and Long to Be

Placemaking is the concept of using shared amenities to increase social relationships by creating some strong ties to identity of the place. Placemaking embodies being intentional with your efforts. For instance, a plaza shared by several buildings where workers sit down to rest and relax, have lunch, and experience the benefits created by the plaza. The end result is a strengthened relationship between people because of their shared interest in the plaza. Instead of just saying, “we need a building,” we begin to realize small decisions are important because they can impact when people come and how long they will stay.

Contrary to what some may assume, expensive building materials rarely contribute to this phenomena. Of course, physical comfort plays a huge role. Proportions also play a large role in blog-12-01how comfortable we feel, as do colors and the availability of natural light. As we become more detailed in the descriptions of the spaces need on our list, we can begin to consider traits that would make up the best spaces for each of our uses.  

 For example, heights of ceilings are necessary discussion. When you get more than twenty or so people in a room, and you have a ceiling that’s eight feet tall, it becomes very claustrophobic. Therefore, the larger the room and the more people likely to occupy it, the taller the ceilings need to be. This is one simple example, but we will want to look at each place/use and determine what characteristics would make it ideal for all of your uses. Later, we will need to prioritize, and some of these items may have to go or be postponed for later phase; however, if we know what they are, we can plan ahead.

Designing your building should be fun. Creating a space to host the needs of the entire ministry effort of the church, from worship and fellowship to everything that makes up your own church culture, may seem like a daunting task on some days – but on the other days it will prove one of the most rewarding works of your life. Draw on your architect’s team for their ideas and experience, but keep your eyes wide open for clever designs you can share with the group. Keep yourself inspired along the way by visiting other churches and buildings you admire. Remember to have fun…being a leader in this role is a great honor.


  1.  Have you ever noticed that in certain places, you are just apt to stay longer? What are some of those places, and what are the reasons you’ll stay? How do you feel when you are there? Share with the group and discuss.
  2. What traits make up your “ideal” worship space? Is this because it relates strongly to the blog-12-02culture of your church, or some other reason?
  3. Are there ministry opportunities, or even ongoing ministry efforts, which would be served by functional outdoor spaces on your church site? Could these efforts easily be accomplished at a public park or other free space, or is there value in such spaces being located onsite? Is this value enough to warrant an investment in such elements?
  4. Is there a specific group of people that you would like to minister to as a church body? How can you design facilities to meet their needs?

If you are in a place where you would like to serve a group of people and do not quite know how, ask some members of that group to come talk to you about their needs. Really listen to what they tell you, and then visualize how you can possibly work to serve them and meet their real needs. What implications are there for your facilities?

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




NEEDS VS. WANTS: A Bird’s Eye View of How Architectural Programming Works

Finally, you can figure out how this building will work! Work is the operative word here, because when it comes to your building, every space needs to be able to function at full capacity. In order to make this happen, you’ll need to spend some time defining the problem before you jump into the possibilities. Again, remember to think about how the overall vision factors into these decisions.


 Would you like to be able to predict with some degree of certainty how large your building needs to be to accommodate your current membership/current and future employees/etc. and allow some room for growth? This information is critical to determining your budget, beginning fundraising, and getting into your new building. You don’t want to overshoot the size of the building because your budget is likely a somewhat fixed product of what you can raise and what you can borrow. But what’s the point of building something new if you are going to outgrow it before you move in?

Accurately predicting your building’s size is extremely important, because the single biggest driver of your cost is square footage.

We are always surprised at how quickly (and somewhat arbitrarily) many groups arrive at a blog-11-01square footage target for their building. Many times people make this decision in reverse – for example, they strategize, “At x dollars a square foot, we can afford a 5,000 square foot building.” But what if 5,000 square feet doesn’t touch the needs? A wise approach is to determine very early on if your needs are in the same range as your budget capabilities. If it turns out that the needs are not aligned with the budget in a realistic way, it is surely better to know upfront so that other strategies can come into play: phasing, leasing, temporarily locating certain initiatives offsite, and so on.

In a nutshell, programming is figuring out how many square feet you need to meet your needs. If money is no object, programming is a cinch. But if money is a concern – and it always is – programming is complicated because you will need to maximize use of every space. Even if you are not considering truly multipurpose spaces, your rooms will still be used for different uses when practical. Typically, when you first list out needs and figure square footage, the number is astronomical. But through careful analysis, we can determine a number that will truly work on all accounts.

In order to answer the question of how much square footage you need to build, an architect has to know the specifics of your buildings activities. For example: How many people office in your building? What are your ministries? Do you focus heavily on world missions? How many children did you have over the course of the last couple of years, and how are you serving those children? Are you serving food to a thousand people every week? These things are second nature to you, but completely unknown to your architect, until you share your information.

blog-11-02Here is how programming works: first, we make an all – encompassing list of needs and uses. Then, your architect will assign square footages to those uses. Once this list of basic square footages is created, we compare this list to the church’s calendar to generally confirm which items should be tag-teaming and sharing spaces. The best practice for programming is to create the list of needs yourself, and then let the architect add his or her thoughts to the list in addition to assigning the square footage estimates. At that point, the team should meet together to brainstorm what areas could and should easily share spaces. This is a meeting where the architect should mostly listen and take notes.

One of the best actions a leadership team can take in this phase is to be crystal clear with design team about what is really important, what is semi – important, and what is less important. (In other words, identify items as a need versus a want.) That is extremely difficult, but that’s one of the reasons why it is so important to have a strong, positive leadership team in place to help you. These people will need to keep the vision front and center as they decide where to invest the most square footage in the design of the building. Armed with the knowledge of what the building needs and wants, and your wish list items, you can start to investigate each area individually. And that’s very exciting!

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




5 Spaces to Thoughtfully Consider When Designing a Church


We live in different world than our parents did. Luckily, very simple and economical efforts can provide lots of safety for the kids!

It’s common in mid – to large – sized churches for children to be checked in to class or childcare. Churches that are smaller or have had the same childcare programs for many years may have chosen not to tackle this initiative yet. Planning is key, though, and you need to think in terms of “phases” of child security. If you can’t check them in using a computer system yet, you can start blog-10-01by at least documenting who is where on a clipboard. Start doing this, and it will become second nature in a few months. At some point, you will need a place where you can put a desk and check-in station. Consider data and electrical needs for that space, as a laptop and printer will likely be placed in that space. Once a child is checked in to the children’s area, most parents believe they will not be let out until they are picked up, so ideally there needs to be a restroom inside that children’s area. If that is not feasible, you’ll need to create a policy for how children will be escorted safely to the restroom and back to the classrooms.

The children’s area will also need to have proper fire egress (have your architect verify this for you).


Churches usually feel they don’t have enough storage. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Sunday School teachers need storage. A teacher cabinet per classroom is ideal, as are some cubbies and hooks for the children’s belongings. Each teacher might keep a plastic tub in the cabinet with class-specific items, and then common items could be shared. Usually, only volunteers who are currently teaching get to keep their personal materials at the church.
  • As a general rule of thumb, these items always need their own space: chairs and tables, banquet/fellowship items, janitorial items, server/data equipment (this room needs to stay cool 24/7!), seasonal decorations, books for pastoral research and church use, and communion supplies (these sometimes need to be stored in a refrigerator in close proximity to a sink area).
  • Will non-church ministries using your space be allowed to store items? If so, where? Consider a common space for this should you allow it. For example, maybe AA meets at your buildingblog-10-02 on Thursdays and would like to store some books. If that’s okay with you, perhaps a dedicated space for all non-church users would be a good choice. When it fills up, you can politely ask the leaders to tidy up.


 The code requirement for church restrooms is rarely enough. A good indicator of what you need is the situation you currently have. Take some notes and let your architect know if there are long lines. Here are some considerations for the restrooms:

A typical rule of thumb for the restroom requirement when it comes to worship spaces is to provide 1 fixture per 150 occupants in the men’s room, and 1 fixture per 75 occupants for the women’s room.

In addition, you will generally need one sink/lavatory for 200 occupants. This rule of thumb is for both men and women.

  • One handicapped stall is required in each restroom.
  • If there are six stalls, there must also be an “ambulatory” stall, which means there will be grab bars for a person on crutches.
  • Consider adding a family restroom for moms and dads (also appreciated by people with several children and single parents). The physically disabled will also appreciate family restrooms, as they are typically easier to navigate and offer increased privacy.


Certainly, if you are running any type of food or clothing distribution center, you will need to discuss this project in detail with your architect because those types of ministries typically start small and grow at lightening speed. What may have initially fit into the context of whatever space it was allocated could soon need its own space.

  • Take your architect on a personal tour of the distribution work you have going on. These stories are rarely communicated clearly through picture and descriptions.
  • Measurements and inventories are very important, as are numbers of volunteers and what their actual jobs are.
  • We have never created more actual drawings for one room than for a “benevolence barn” that we drew very early in my career. These buildings work very hard! Remind your architect to consider every detail, including the weight capacities and depths of shelving.


Increasingly, churches are becoming intentional about designing their outdoor space for maximum use. Your architect should help you think about how you should orient the building so you can gain maximum shade for outdoor spaces.

Are there ministry opportunities, or even ongoing ministry efforts, that would be well-served by a functional outdoor space?

  • Consider working in a few semi-private areas outside, perhaps with half-walls, some landscaping, shade, and an outdoor fan.
  • If at least some of your tasks can be completed outdoors (and the millennial work force loves blog-10-03to move around while working!), that change will free up some of your indoor space. This might not work June through September in Texas, but it would be a great amenity for the rest of the year.
  • Possibilities for outdoor activities include lunch and break areas, conference spaces, and publicly open spaces.
  • Here are some amenities that the church could offer outdoors to strangers and members alike: free Wi-Fi, with a separate password for the porch areas, perhaps a switch for the outdoor fan, and a water fountain that fills up a bottle. Simple items like this will help welcome people to use the space even when you’re not there.
  • Are there ministry opportunities, or even ongoing ministry efforts, that would be well-served by a functional outdoor space?

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




You’re Looking for Land: Tips to Get You Going!

First, simply put your nose to the ground. This is free, and often takes you far!  Start getting a feel for the pulse of your target area as it pertains to commercial real estate. Subscribe to the local MLS listings (which will provide data properties for sale) and follow all local realtor pages on social media (or just put them in your web surfing favorites if you are somewhat diligent about your online activity). If you have trusted realtors in your immediate acquaintances, residential or otherwise, let them know what you are looking for so they can bring new listings to your attention quickly.

As you look through properties, you will begin to notice some patterns about your reactions to properties in relation to specific location. The goal should be to get to a point where you can blog-9-01draw a circle around a geographic area where you could “live.” (Most of the time, this won’t be an actual “circle”.) While you are entering this phase, also begin to note property specifics that are essential to you. For example, in a high-density urban downtown area it may not be essential that you have your own building, or that you even own it! Long – term lease in a rural community does not make as much sense (more on this dilemma later). When you’ve got this pinned down, and it’s time to get serious and hire the best commercial realtor around. Try to be objective – if you have a member who’s a great commercial realtor, go for it. But saving on fees is not worth losing the right piece of property.

The next step is to understand that your role is to evaluate the properties brought to you by your realtor. Of course, look for properties yourself, but if your realtor is good, they should see most new properties before you do. Give your realtor a checklist of information you need in order to evaluate properties.

These properties are going to be harder to evaluate than, say, looking for a house. There are so many things to consider, and having the realtor complete the checklist beforehand lets you know at a glance how feasible the property is in very general terms. Otherwise, you will spend your time chasing down loose ends. Credible realtors have an excellent skill set for answering these questions. So, email this checklist to the realtor, and let them know that for each property you look at, you will need answers or direction before you will be able to pursue anything further!

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




Owners, Architects, Engineers and Contractors: A Simple Explanation of Who Does What in a Commercial Building Project

So you have a project to handle, and need to hire some help.  Who are these people, and what do they do? When should they be involved, and at what points should they be responsible for something? Let’s start with who is actually responsible for what.

We want to suggest this general rule of thumb for dividing responsibilities: if you bring the value to the table, you are responsible.

The Owner (That’s You):

Let’s begin with the owner (you). You are responsible for communicating your vision and expectations for the project to your own management/congregation/leadership team. You are responsible for the actions and behavior of your employees and/and congregation as it pertains to the project. You are responsible for prompt payment on a regular basis. You are responsible for the property you own and any unforeseen characteristics of that property.

The Architect:

Now let’s talk first about the architect’s team. On this team you will have an Architect of Record (typically the owner or a principal in their company). This is the individual who holds the license for the seal on your construction drawings. On the architect’s team, the Architect of Record is the person responsible by law for the health, safety, and welfare of the public who enter your building. You may also have a Project Architect or Designer who will work directly with you on the concept for your project, a Project Manager who will be in close communication with you throughout the project to manage construction and details in the field, and Drafters (who could also be interns working toward licensure). All of these people will communicate and talk about your project even more than you do, every day, for the duration of the project. blog-8-01

Also on your architect’s team, although likely not part of their actual company, will be a team of professional engineers. Your architect should have final say in who these individuals are, and you can either pay the engineers as part of your contract with the architect or the architect can help you create an agreement to compensate them individually. On most projects for new construction or renovation, you will have a civil engineer (handling everything to do with designing the site, detaining water, paving, etc), a structural engineer (charged with designing the foundation and structure of the building), and an MEP Engineer (this usually stands for a group of three engineers and includes the Mechanical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, and Plumbing Engineer).

These are the people most actively involved during the design phase of your project.

Let’s walk through why you need an architect partner:

  1. To program your needs and arrive to the optimal amount of square footage the church needs to operate with room for growth
  2. To design the building (including the site, the plan, and the way it looks on the outside and the inside) and to consider the impact of your building at every level: the person, the church, and the community
  3. To get your engineers together, to inform them about the building goals and the budget, and to make sure all of their drawing work with the intent of your project
  4. To make sure your building meets codes regarding health, safety, and welfare of the public because you are renovating/building a commercial building. To communicate with your city’s local authorities on your behalf
  5. During construction, to act on your behalf in relaying your intent for the building (that is, how the church wants to use it and what you want it to be like), as related to interpreting the drawing set
  6. To advise on matters of process during the design and construction phases.

In the best of cases, you should have a relationship of complete honesty and openness with the architect’s team. You should be able to tell them when they are missing the mark without hurting their feelings, and you should be able to accept when they suggest that you push back your schedules, or that your budget expectations are off. Your architect will probably be the only person besides you who will obsess over every detail of how the dream is going to play out. So tell them your whole story as it relates to the building. The more accurate information your architect has, the better they can help you.

If you have not been through a construction project in the past, you need to be prepared for the leadership roles to change throughout the process. From the planning stage through design and permitting, you will need to rely on architect’s team as the authority on codes, design expertise, and engineering coordination. During this time, the construction partner needs to serve in support role, offering cost info and building systems knowledge and serving as an extra pair of experienced eyes on the developing drawing set. Once the project moves from bidding into construction, the architect will immediately shift into a support role as the contractor takes responsibility for managing the project forward.

So what value does your construction team offer the church?

  1. Cost. They’ll tell you the price of items, which will help you set a reasonable budget upfront. If you are late to the game in establishing a realistic budget, they’ll get you back on track to accomplish what is feasible for the church by providing phased solutions or strategic plans.
  2. Methods. Contractors know the methods we need to use to build. Architects can draw the building you want, but someone actually has to get out in the dirt and put this giant beast together. Contractors know how.
  3. Means. They have the means to get the work done. They have the list of tradespeople, and they have the equipment. They know who to call and when. They’ve got men willing to wake up at 3:00 a.m. and supervise concrete pours, work all day, and then come back and do the same thing tomorrow.
  4. Insurance and safety programs. They use their people trained in building and supervising to keep your job site safe and the church free of liability while tons of steel hand overhead and electricians do their work, among other dangerous tasks.

For all practical purposes, the Owner needs to stay in a decision-making role throughout, acting as property owner and authority over the church’s funds and overall vision implementation. If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




Your First Impression: Thinking Through Your Welcome Spaces

The notorious first impression! Your building parking lot, sidewalks, entry points, and lobby are your one and only chance to make that critical first impression. Fancy is usually of no use, but clean and welcoming are absolutely key. Also remember that people need to know where to go without much confusion. Here are some other considerations to help get your brain inspired and moving:blog-7-01

  • Consider the lobby/foyer as a main hub. Once a person enters the building, there should beeither obvious directional information or a nice signage plan to immediately let people know where to go. Remember to put yourself in the shoes of each type of person (for example, parents and children), and consider how they would experience the building (your architect should also do this).
  • The lobby is a good option for the largest restroom location, but our preference is for a slightly offset restroom entry from the main lobby so that those entries have a degree of privacy while still being readily available.
  • The ceiling in your lobby is a good place to do something interesting with a different material since it’s front and center. Nicer materials can be used sparingly but powerfully in high – focus areas.blog-7-02
  • Think about sound. The entry is likely to be your largest area of “uncontrolled” sound. You may need to consider at least some softer surfaces such as carpet, carpet tiles, or even some sound absorption panels on the walls.
  • Consider having some ceiling or wall – mounted TVs in this area for announcements.
  • An office’s lobby is certainly important.  Safety and security for staff, a welcoming entry for guests/customers, and great wayfinding is all very important.  Consider the use of strategically placed glass in this front area, as well as a way to quickly triage separate groups who may enter at the same time.
  • A church’s lobby will ideally have at least two different “centers”: a place for refreshments such as coffee or water, and a place to distribute information. It is not ideal (although certainly possible in a pinch) to have these two centers in the same place. Typically, these areas are manned by several people who need some room, and spills are also a factor for the refreshment area. If you are considering solid – surface countertops such as granite anywhere in the building, this would be the one place to splurge because it is a high – traffic area.
  • Handicapped spaces need to be as close to the entry doors as possible, with ramps as needed (your architect will figure this out!)
  • Simple, low – water plants and shrubs carry their weight when it comes to welcoming elements. Do not get carried away on landscaping unless you have someone willing to maintain it over the long haul. It’s better to do something simple and welcoming, which is likely to already be your building strategy. Look into xeriscaping* as a concept.

blog-7-03These points are some considerations to make when thinking about what you want other people first impression of your building to be. Remember, if you ever get stuck, always tie it back to your vision and keep moving!

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




The Long Journey of Fundraising: 10 Pointers for Raising Money for Capital Improvements

This is an article where we tell you how to raise millions so that you can build the place of your dreams. Laughable, isn’t it? Actually, it’s really not that funny. The pressure pastors and executive directors face (and many time, they face this part alone) is real. In the very best of scenarios when the eldership and committees fully support the mission and carry a big portion of the work load, there is usually one person who has to get on the platform and make the case for a great deal of money: the pastor, or the ED. No one likes to ask their membership for money, but there are ways to ease the burden, to avoid major disappointments, and to increase giving strategically for capital campaigns. In my experience, the nonprofits that have had the best luck with fundraising are not necessarily the wealthiest congregations, but those with the best long – term plans.

Rule Number One of Fundraising: Keep the congregation updated with the information you are sure of. It’s tempting to tell the congregation every exciting detail of the work you are accomplishing in the planning process. However, the better approach is to update them regularly, but only with information you know with a degree of certainty.

In the beginning, you are simply building excitement and letting your people know what’s ahead! Think carefully and speak only what you know to be 100% true based on solid advice, and not advice you’ve arrived at by means of hastily asked questions and badgering of people in the industry. The reputation of the project within the church needs to be above par at all times. Do not exhaust the congregation; simply keep them in the loop about milestones (positive or not so positive). It’s all about sharing the proper perspective.

As a general rule, you want to update the masses as much as possible about why you are pursuing a building project (e.g., growing ministries, growing needs, and growing kids). Then, of course show them how you are going to do it (communicating capital campaign goals and a running total of where you’re at on the fundraising scale). And yes, as much as you can along the way, show them what you are going to do (using site plans, building renderings, etc). So first deal with the why, then deal with the how, and then follow up with the what. This reinforces the role of the building and facilities as a tool for your ministry, not the other way around. In this manner, you are coaching the church into an intentional mindset about the project, where the building is clearly seen as a tool to support the work of the church. A church with such a mindset is much likely to incur major disagreements over trivial parts of the project, because the focus is on the building as a tool, and the excitement lies there (as opposed to the color of a countertop, etc.)

As you begin work with an architect, ask them monthly if there is anything new you could showblog-6-01 the congregation. The best practice is to wait until you have valid cost estimations before you present visuals of any kind, other than a very basic feasibility study (with which you would not mention a number that you need until you know that for sure). Keep the lines of communication open for questions, possibly through a comment box, which would be checked by the building committee chairman. Congregational questions should be discussed by the committee before answers are given, and the rule of thumb about sharing only the facts should be the general rule.

Many churches are hiring fundraising experts these days. These professionals can be an important asset, especially in very large congregations. Here are 10 Basic Principles to keep in mind!

  1. Keep the congregation updated on a very regular basis with most simple, clearly understood facts about the project.
  2. Consider your position on whether you will accept pledges as part of your fundraising strategy, and if so, how you will redeem the pledges.
  3. Take time to explain to the congregation (usually the finance committee will assist with this) exactly how you are funding the project. If you have made the decision to borrow conservatively, let the congregation know how and why you arrived at that decision. If you have decided not to borrow, you’ll need to lay out those plans as well.
  4. Once design decisions have been made and prices negotiated/communicated, give the congregation access to flyers and booklets telling the wonderful news of what is to come!
  5. Strategize the best times to ask the congregation to consider major financial support. In the project schedule, there are some events proven to help fundraising: when people see the first drawing, and when the first backhoe shows up. Other great times are when the structure blog-6-02becomes visible and when you can take your congregation through their first building tour.
  6. Do not ask the congregation to support two ministries or efforts on the same Sunday, or even back – to – back Sundays. This does not benefit either cause. People who would have prayed and given to both causes will likely back off from one.
  7. There is a major difference between project cost and “building” cost. You need to tell the congregation how much the whole project is going to cost.
  8. Remember that people give to the church in two ways: time, and money. Treat your ministry leaders and your major financial contributors similarly as it pertains to fundraising and you’ll avoid a world of hurt feelings.
  9. Consider at the very beginning of the project how much “pull” you’ll allow your contributors to have about the details of the project. We recommend that all suggestions, regardless of whom they are from, run through the same channels (building committee, board, pastor, etc).
  10. #1 Piece of Advice:  Keep a Positive Perspective.  Construction and design are not easy, and it’s very likely that this season you may feel that your time is in short supply.  Work with people you trust, and lead by example on all fronts.

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




Evaluating Property: How to Know if the Property You’re Looking at is the Perfect Place for your Mission to Grow

If you or your company/organization/church already owns property for expansion, this article will serve more as a checklist to highlight items that may need further research. If you are meeting in a space that needs revitalization, this article will help you develop a plan based on facilities you already have. You may need to do some retroactive investigation to make sure you can confidently make decisions and prioritize your needs. If you are planning to one day purchase or lease property for your building, you will want to use this as your go-to resource until you close a deal.

Typically, buildings who need the most help, but who can afford it the least, are in the very beginning phaseblog-5-01s of seeking a permanent place to call home. You might be meeting in someone’s home, or leasing something that for various reasons isn’t meeting your needs. You know you need to be working toward change, but you aren’t sure where to begin. All sensibilities aside, the possibilities of where people could meet are essentially endless. The question becomes whether the decision is financially prudent, provides the possibility for expansion (if not, can be quickly sold or benefit the company in another way), and, most importantly, sets the stage for your culture to thrive.

Thinking about the vision for where your group might live can feel overwhelming and can provoke two opposite responses:

  1. Paralysis by analysis
  2. Hasty action based on little or no reliable advice

Both of these approaches have a tendency to exhaust the leadership and the space. Indecision will result in your building reaching the point of bursting at the seams, while hasty action (which is often based on urgency to show the group their funds are being used correctly) usually results in poor decisions and disastrous consequences (typically financial in nature). A conservatively proactive approach is a much better strategy. Long before you are ready to hire any professionals or make a purchase, you have a lot of work to do to ensure that when the time comes, you can confidently strike while the iron is hot!

Have you ever thought, “Could someone just tell me if this property would work, how fast I could get it, and how much it would cost?” It’s no secret that dealing with leasing and purchasing property is complicated and can move quickly! If you could quickly determine if a scenario is even feasible, you could save money and time. This is where feasibility studies come in. They are the fastest and most cost effective way to weigh a customer’s options. For example, say we have a potential property we are considering, and we are wondering if it will work – can we get the parking spaces we need; can we seat all the people; can we have band practice; can we accommodate the food distribution ministry? And, importantly, does this property offer a reasonable price point, as compared to our other geographically acceptable options?

A feasibility study can also figure out how your current facility could be expanded to meet your congregation’s growing needs. Or, the study could compare your current location to a different one, with regard to space and price. A feasible study could look at leasing versus buying. 

Feasibility study – a concentrated effort to determine whether an idea is financially, strategically,blog-5-02 functionally, and aesthetically feasible. This study typically involved a design team working for a short time to address one or more possibilities (sometimes for land purchases and other opportunities). 

Such a study is the quickest tool to help you make decisions about your next move. A feasibility study does not go into great detail, but rather investigates the major considerations of a location, leaving the smaller items to study later.

Feasibility studies are the single best value product offered at PlanNorth because they offer the client a chance to compile all of the facts in a straightforward way, bringing clarity in preparation for good decision making.

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




Creating the Perfect Worship Space to Grow Your Congregation: Combining Your Vision with Something that Will Draw People In

What is your idea of the absolutely perfect worship space? Do you think metal chairs arranged skillfully on a basketball court make a great sanctuary, or are you visualizing a space with beautiful wooden pews and stained glass? The truth is that both scenarios work amazingly well. Your architect will ask to hear your general ideas, and you’ll then want him or her to provide you with as many options as possible so that you know your alternatives.  Here are some things to ponder as you begin to dream about your first Sunday!

To begin, think about what your typical worship look like. If your worship service greatly blog-04-01resembles a Hillsong concert, you will need to approach it differently than if your congregation sings a cappella. You will need more room per person if you are encouraging more freedom of expression during worship.

A good Rule of Thumb to figure the worship space is to use about 25 square feet per person. This formula includes the sanctuary and its direct support spaces: the baptistery, a dressing room, a bank of restrooms, and a foyer/lobby.

Here are some other items to consider as you contemplate the worship space:

  • If your church needs a permanent baptistery installed, a pre-fab model is the best option, and it usually comes with an option to purchase a heater (a major plus).
  • If you have a choir, you’ll need to estimate a target number of participants and factor that number into your stage size.
  • Enlist a person to itemize the sound and lighting equipment you currently own. Will you use all of this, move it to a new fellowship area eventually, or dedicate it for another use? Ask the person to make some general projections on each piece of equipment as to what the longer-term goals might be.
  • Sound booths can be done well either as permanent or portable units, but they need a place where the person in the booth can hear very well. Most “sound people” will request a location in the dead center of the church, and some churches accommodate this by creating two aisles around the booth. Most opt to move the sound booth to the side slightly and keep a center aisle (mostly for the capability to have a center aisle during weddings), while still maintaining the ability for the sound technician to hear very well in the space.
  • An acoustician is a person who specializes in determining the very specific qualities a building needs for optimal sound. He looks at the space in terms of very specific music instruments, the angle of the walls, and the properties of materials such as brick or glass. An acoustician will take an architect’s 3D model and let you know exactly how you could tweak the sanctuary to create amazing sound.  Certainly in larger congregations, this person is a necessary part of the team.


Fellowship spaces differ greatly, but one thing is usually a constant: people like to eat and hang out! The fellowship area usually works to meet this need, in addition to other congregational ministry needs such as sports and other large group events. Here are some thoughts:

  • Consider a location close to the kitchen for ease of serving
  • You’ll want to consider this room as high – traffic, because it likely will be! Carpet tiles, stained concrete, and vinyl tile are by far the best flooring options for fellowship areas depending on your specific uses (receptions, basketball games etc.)
  • blog-04-02If you are aiming for a truly multipurpose space, consider some dimmable lighting and a neutral color palette. With these choices, a basketball court can serve well for a wedding reception and other special occasions.
  • If you are considering hosting basketball, volleyball, or other sports or games, you’ll need a taller building than if the fellowship hall is strictly for eating purposes.
  • If you are planning an opening between the kitchen and the fellowship area, metal overhead doors work well as dividers. If these are too much for your budget, consider using some shutters to separate the space.
  • Take time to explain to your architect (or write a summary) of how your cooking/warming/serving process actually works. If you don’t currently serve food because you don’t have the facilities, you might talk to some churches who do it well and ask if you can participate sometime to get a feel for some good systems.
  • If you can afford it, having dedicated storage for tablecloths, drink pitchers, and coffee dispensers when they’re clean is a great amenity. Since they are food storage items, it’s important that they stay clean.
  • Sound will be a factor in a fellowship space. If you (for various reasons) cannot use a softer floor or ceiling material, you’ll need to consider some acoustical panels.
  • Plan for special presentations in this space by determining where you might place a portable stage and sound equipment, and definitely consider power and data requirements
  • Most churches plan to seat at least half of their worship attendance in the fellowship center. Small churches (under 200 attendees) are very likely to seat closer to their total worship attendance. Plan for 15 square feet per person for the fellowship center if you are going to use long rectangular tables or 18-20 square feet per person if you are planning for round tables. This includes the dining/fellowship room, the kitchen, and the restrooms.


Children’s areas don’t have to be heavily decorated – they need to be clean and inviting. Many times the children’s ministry warrants its own master planning exercise because there are so many involved ministries that depend on these facilities. For instance, is a Mother’s Day Out (MDO) in your future? Do you have plans for a school one day? Are you going to allow other groups to use the children’s wing, such as a home school group or a co-op? If so, how are you going to meet these needs? Brainstorming sessions can help you define what the possibilities are. Here are some helpful hints involving children:

  • You must think about the nature of children. They are easily distracted. They have a lot of energy. You want to help them focus, and you want them to get engaged, but not too excited. Aiming for “exciting with some structure” is a good goal!blog-04-03
  • With that in mind, it’s a great idea to focus on one or two elements per space that are special about that one space, so that children begin to identify with attending. For instance, creating a simple wayfinding system for the kids by making each room’s door or entry mat a different color. It’s another way of ministering to the smallest members of your church family by making them feel safe and comfortable.
  • Most churches prefer the nursery to be located fairly near the sanctuary. Near the nursery, many churches are also adding a lounge for mothers with newborns. When a woman has a newborn or any kind of special needs child, it is wonderful of a church to think of those needs. Having a small room with rocking chairs, some foot stools, a small sink, a place to change a diaper, and perhaps an under-counter fridge can often determine whether a family can make it to a service or not! These accommodations are very easy for the architect to plan for, and then the church can simply put together whatever furniture works best, as funds become available.
  • Many churches offer a three to four-hour per week program to give moms and dads a little break. Keep in mind that activities such as a Mother’s Day Out programs have slightly different code requirements, such as requiring sinks in classrooms. If you do have dreams of doing a school or MDO one day, make sure you mention this to your architect so they can make sure you’re set up for that. You don’t have to build out every specific detail upfront, but planning is key here!

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com




Managing Your City’s Building Requirements: What the Heck are They Thinking?

City officials look at buildings a little differently than the public, and even a little differently than architects and engineers. While architects and engineers will reference codes to complete our overall design goals, the entirety of a city building official’s career is based on codes. Sometimes churches, nonprofits and small businesses expect to be granted at least some degree of leniency on items such as parking, fire sprinkler system requirements, detention, and other code-mandated items. The truth is that the city officials do not see your church as a loving group of people serving and sharing. They see it as a type of building, and that’s their job. While they may admire what you are doing personally, their professional responsibility is to zero in on what you are building and confirm that your design team has applied the correct codes.

What you are required to provide and do in a space is based on something called “Occupancy Type.” Occupancy type is basically a description of what you are planning to do in the building and involves various categories. Some examples include Mercantile, Business, Industrial, and Assembly. Church worship spaces are designated as Assembly. In simple terms, Assembly spaces are places where people gather in groups.  Offices are typically designated as “Business”.

So if you are moving into an old church and renovating, you are not changing the Occupancy blog-3-01Type of that building. If you are moving into an Office Building and turning it into a Church, you are changing the occupancy type from Business to Assembly. If you are moving into another type of Assembly space such as an Event Center, you will be closer in requirements, but there are several types of Assembly Spaces. Even though it’s the exact same actual building, the purpose of the building is what determines what the codes are going to require. Do not assume you can move in without building more parking, more restrooms, putting in detention, etc. This is something that the architect will check during their code search, or you can bring those questions up to the city prior to the land purchase if you do not have an architect helping you at that time.

City officials respect professionals who do their own code research and can explain their reasoning. Every once in a while you run into a problem and you have to pick your battles. Respect and professionalism, as well as compromise, are key on all sides.

If any questions come to my mind, please feel free to email us at info@plannorth.com