Posted in practice on January 29, 2015 10:43 am EST

Inside Knowledge: The 4 Decision-Making Models AECs Encounter in Churches

Do you, as a church design professional, know how to steer your clients to the best decisions for their space--in a timely manner? It's crucial to first know what decision-making model you're dealing with.











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TAGS: collaboration, collaborative design, education, leadership, practice,


By Craig Janssen

The best way to get client decisions may depend on the structure of the church.

Early in my career, I spent an afternoon talking with a man about the plans for the renovation of his church. Within a few hours, the man and I had a partial design developed based on the mission he outlined. It was exciting. It would solve the church's problems. It would improve the experience ... and I learned a few weeks later that it was never, ever actually going to happen.

Architects, engineers and constructors learn early on to identify who the decision makers are….

You see, my conversation wasn't with the person who had the authority to make decisions.

On my part, it was a rookie mistake.

Architects, engineers and constructors learn early on to identify who the decision makers are. In the commercial world, it is pretty straightforward and, in fact, is often jokingly called "the golden rule" (aka, the one with the gold makes the rules). But churches are more complex. There are a variety of decision-making and governance structures—and unless you understand the model, it can be easy to get caught up making decisions with someone simply because they are impassioned when they speak. (And let's face it, we all feel a lot of ownership when it comes to our churches. In fact, work in the industry long enough and you will hear many architects say that designing churches is an even more personal process than designing a residence.)

For design teams working with churches, the decision-making structures typically fall into one of the following categories:

1. Senior Pastor-Led Churches

How it works: Many churches are led by a strong senior pastor. This isn't about influence, vision or force of personality, it is about how the church is governed. If you are working with a Senior Pastor-led church, then meetings will typically be easier to organize and other voices such as worship leaders, children's ministers and others will be called in as input as needed, but the pastor will remain the sole source of decision-making for the church.

Dallas-area Idibri conducts a client design session using building information modeling (BIM) software. Image courtesy of Idibri.

Working with this model: Strong senior pastors are often visionary and may not have time for the detail work; in that case it may be helpful to ask the pastor to appoint a coordinator for the details on the project. Another helpful strategy is to make sure that meetings are well organized and that every time you meet you have a list of the decisions that need to be made for that phase of the process. After all, the pastor is running the building program on top of all of the other demands of his position, and will appreciate your efforts at the efficient use of his time.

2. Elder-Led Churches

How it works: Elder-led churches are typically run by a group of appointed elders who serve as spiritual heads of the church. The elders are responsible for maintaining the mission of the church and for making the major decisions that face the body, including campus planning and fiscal responsibilities. In many cases, the senior pastor may also serve as one of the elders in either a voting or non-voting position.

Working with this model: Asking the elders at the outset to determine their preferred structure for decision-making can help set expectations on both sides. Many elder-led churches will prefer to hire a third-party construction manager or will appoint someone on staff to handle the day-to-day decisions. It will be important to outline early the role that the senior pastor, worship minister, youth leaders and others will play. If there is not strong alignment around a single mission, there may be sensitivities to be navigated. Wherever possible, have the elders clearly outline the main mission for the project so that it is the measurement for success.  continued >>