Who Should Own Church Building Projects? (Part-1)

Posted on September 20, 2017

Many Owners

Ownership is a key motivator for performance excellence. When any action lacks an owner, quality in its delivery may be sacrificed. One of the dilemmas I have seen in many church building and infrastructural projects in the last thirty years is a lack of clear ownership for technical and engineering excellence. This is worsened by the disadvantage of many of these infrastructures being needed literally yesterday. Unconscionable hurry in engineering forces many errors, some quite costly.

The Church with all of its physical and spiritual assets, of course, belongs to God. But He will not come down to physically build for Himself. He has delegated that responsibility to us pastors, church leaders, and lay members. The typical church project therefore has many owners, and, as the saying goes, many cooks can spoil the broth.
Any church undertaking is a classic project in God’s eyes. He demands the same level of dedication, finish, and finesse to them all, because excellence is one of His hallmarks.

When people of diverse backgrounds and callings come together under the umbrella of a private social platform that promotes projects as part of its agenda, as is the case with any church, the project delivery process often assumes a complex and peculiar form. These peculiarities call for a deft approach to project management.
Church projects are not like your run-of-the-mill secular project. Unlike these, church projects do not only pose engineering and technical challenges, they are also predominantly a hearts-and-minds issue, because of the peculiar setting of the Church. When this important realisation is missed, it can hinder the execution of a church project.

The ownership dimension of church projects is quite daunting. As no engineering project commands a wider ownership, there are clear challenges that call for eagle-eyed technical and spiritual presence. The fact that they are also directly linked to ownership by God Himself further creates significant spiritual sensibilities that make managing them even more peculiar. The skills required to manage church projects are often underestimated by church authorities, leading, in many instances that I have seen, to below spec deliveries.

Many Critics, Few Hearty Owners

Church projects have four categories of owners:

  • God Himself: as the ultimate owner, and as He demanded for the Church in the wilderness, He must be consulted on and His direction sought for all the questions that pertain to every church project. No Church leader reserves the right to embark on a project for God without first seeking His clearance. For crying out loud, it is His Church. He declares, “I will build my Church.” We are therefore only hired labourers!

  • The Location Pastor: as the project director, the buck stops at his or her table. He or she is answerable to God and higher church leadership.

  • The Project Manager and his or her team of technical experts: they are the arrowhead and technical executor of the project. In the light of the discourse on engineering excellence, I consider them the ‘real owners’ of the church project. They must mobilise this ownership from both within and outside the church as occasion may demand.

  • Church members: church folk that are articulate enough generally see themselves as having a say in how church projects are conceived and executed. The reason for this is not far-fetched. They give their offerings and pay their tithes to the church. Sometimes, beyond these commitments, they make special pledges towards financing specific projects as part of their Christian duties. Not exercising a right to speak up on church projects, when they see the need to do so, might seem to them as shirking responsibility.

    In one of the churches where I worked, there was an enlarged body of project patrons who met every once in a while with my technical committee to canvass issues on ongoing projects and provide steers. The forum provided an avenue for committed project financiers to ask questions and vent their feelings. This provided them assurance that their financial contributions were being put to proper use. And this kept their contributions flowing in.

They are largely armchair critics who exert their influence one way or the other. Unfortunately, no construction project can afford too many ‘experts’ giving instructions on how things should be done. Therefore managing members’ opinions and suggestions calls for some strategy.

Although the church is by no means a democratic setting, a channel can also be provided for other church folk to vent their feelings on how things are being done, whether those feelings are right or wrong. Periodic church workers forums provide the avenue for this. Giving them the opportunity to do so preserves their membership and gives them a sense of belonging.

Apart from these communication channels, another method that can be adopted to harness the suggestions of members—for whatever they are worth—is to create a suggestions box for this purpose and urge members to post their suggestions there. For this to be a credible strategy there must be an official appointed to regularly take out the suggestions and pass them to the project manager for review.

The pastor, project manager, and other project leaders must make themselves accessible to members who have something to say, without getting themselves bogged down by mob thinking; and they must show firmness when a decision has been taken on any topical issue. What should be understood is that, in the church setting, projects have many armchair critics and few hearty supervisors and owners.

Generally, the expectations of many church members can quite simply be met if they get to know what is going on. They are usually mostly concerned about transparency in financial transactions of the church. As project financiers and important stakeholders, it is of vital importance to ensure that project progress is made visible to them regularly.
(To be concluded in Part-2.)

About the Author
This article is culled from Chris Ekpekurede’s book, Managing Church Building Projects.
A Christian and Civil Engineer, he is a motivator and life coach. He is a multiple Fellow of three professional bodies in Nigeria, and has held senior engineering positions at the Shell Petroleum Development Company and a subsidiary of the Royal Volker Stevin of Holland. His nearly thirty years of project work in various churches as a volunteer has endeared him to many church leaders.
He is the author of five other books with many accolades.
Book Website: http://sbpra.com/ChrisEkpekurede
Email: cekpekurede@yahoo.com; Tel: +2348182813231

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