While there are many ways to define master planning, I would summarize it as looking to, and planning for, the future. This concept applies to many different disciplines including business management, human resources, space usage, green building goals, user groups, programs offered, and facilities operations & management. Master planning helps clients to be visionary about where they want to go, which allows them the perspective to make tactical decisions about program and building goals, rather than simply reacting to an imminent functional need or emergency situation. I am a strong proponent of this process for just about any building type, including residential, commercial, educational, and other public institutions.
I believe a thoughtful approach to master planning is especially important to churches for a number of reasons. First, a master plan document can save a client money. With an initial investment for the development of a master plan document, an architect and client work together to anticipate growth, program needs, and potential building deficiencies. I have worked on many projects where a church community wants to add to or remodel an existing facility, but the project encounters difficulties because of the lack of comprehensive planning. Poor planning will often lead to the squandering of precious funds to ‘correct’ an existing facility in some way before new functions can be added. This ‘correction’ can take the form of major remodeling or even demolition of some of the existing facility, in order that the overall ‘whole’ of the building can better serve its congregation. It is disheartening for all involved when a courageous church member admits something like “If we had only put together a plan earlier, we wouldn’t be in this situation now…”.
Second, a master plan is invaluable when considering a church facility’s ‘life cycle costs’. Most of us consumers tend to make financial decisions primarily based on initial costs without adequately considering costs over the long term. However, most successful companies and manufacturers employ business models where buildings are treated as equipment that need to be continually maintained, upgraded, re-tooled, or even replaced at the end of their usable life span. Good companies periodically evaluate the performance of their programs, personnel, and facilities to ensure their efficiency and productivity. Unfortunately, churches and other institutions often do not make these types of evaluations until a critical need arises.
Finally, a good master plan can support and enhance a congregation’s core mission. While less quantifiable, this function of a master plan can have an enormous impact on a church and its facilities. Typically, churches want to reach out to a greater community, whether it is through global missions, community outreach, or by simply being more welcoming to others in the immediate neighborhood. A master plan considers a congregation’s facilities as a vehicle that works with and promotes the church’s mission; the building is not just a place where people go.
On several recent projects, we have repeatedly gone back to the research we completed in the master planning phase as a basis for making intelligent decisions. Our collaborative process yields a master plan which can have a shelf life of as much as thirty years, covering topics as varied as a) analyzing a church’s building using its Mission Statement, b) defining the process of procession (from home to car to entry to greeting to worship) to c) how tables in the Fellowship Hall can be placed to encourage congregation members to reach out to newcomers.
Churches, like strong companies, intend to remain “in business” forever. Master planning is a means of learning from a church’s past, evaluating its present, and investing smart money in its future.