Our church in metro Detroit started in a basement before moving into an old school building, followed by the city community center, and then finally—our own space. There are undoubtedly advantages to moving into a place of your own, and a lot of excitement that comes with it. As we prepared to say goodbye to our latest temporary space and plant our flag into something more permanent, it became apparent that God was working on helping us discover something else.

Before we could move into our own space, we had to let God teach us who we were as a church. The key thing that we have learned during this transition is what really matters. There’s something about a change like this that brings everything significant to the forefront and makes you realize that the things you need for success may not be exactly what you predicted. Since moving into a 24/7 facility, here’s what we have learned matters.

Size matters.

As it turns out, size really does matter. You can’t settle for a small space just to have a space of your own. A lot of church leaders are willing to do this, and the allure of getting into your own space can make you settle.

We ended up deciding that the right size for us would be a facility that would allow us to accommodate a minimum of 1,000 people in two services. We also allowed our priorities to determine how we divided up the space: 50% dedicated to adults, 45% dedicated to children/teens, 5% dedicated to administration—and 100% of the facility designed for multipurpose use. Our overall square footage goal was between 25,000 to 35,000 feet. In our research with several churches, including some mega-churches committed to many campuses, it seemed that this was the sweet spot. It would be big enough to be exciting and to accommodate growth, but still small enough to feel intimate and not overwhelming.

We had a group from a church in Illinois tour our place after doing a buildout for their own church, consisting of many more attenders than we have. They were surprised at the size of our space and mentioned that our facility was as large as theirs. In fact, they wanted to know why we needed such a big space.

Our response was that we are not planning for next week—we are planning for the next several years. For growth we haven’t even seen yet. Even if you make a move into a place that is big enough for your immediate needs, it will keep you small by not allowing you to grow.

Patience matters.

If you have ever been hunting, you are probably familiar with the necessary act of keeping yourself calm and steadying your breathing. If you let your adrenaline take over, you’ll end up rushing your shot and then missing your mark, or even settling for something lesser. We were waiting for our 12-point buck, but it’s so tempting to take a shot when you haven’t seen anything in a while and a doe walks in front of you.

We would have loved to have a building of our own much, much earlier. We walked through some potential spaces in previous years and even almost made an agreement to move into another portable situation—just because it was better than what we were working with. Our staff ended up backing away from this decision, and it was a hard lesson for us at the time. But our patience paid off after passing on other opportunities and waiting for the right shot, and we got our 12-point buck.

Vision matters.

One of the cornerstone “rules” of any campaign is that you don’t run a campaign for an idea, you run it for a thing. For this reason, we knew it would be really difficult to run a campaign unless we were certain that we had a place lined up. But we didn’t have the money to secure a facility at the time, so we had to campaign for the “maybe.” Rather than get our people excited about a place, we had to get them excited about a vision.

The vision we shared was one where a place of our own could be used to reach more people and to enhance what we were already excited about doing. We had to tie the vision of the building into a larger plan for the following years. We learned in this process that the vision of reaching people for Jesus and seeing their lives change is what truly matters most, not the building itself. Not only did we have a successful campaign, but we raised nearly 50% more than our hired campaign consultants advised that we could.

“Look and feel” matters.

With a space of our own, we needed people who were already skeptical about church to be able to walk in and find their stereotypes broken, not reinforced. Every building creates a certain feel and its features will either enhance or detract from the experience.

There were certain spaces we looked at that we knew would feel too “churchy” and result in people keeping their arms crossed. Our permanent place has funky angles and designs, big windows, a bright skylight, a large and open café, a big lobby in the children’s wing that fits a giant outdoor playscape, and an auditorium that’s large but still feels intimate—all features that are not typical of a church building. We waited for a space with the right feel and then changed what we didn’t like about it to suit more of our needs.

We created a very specific list of what we were looking for based on the experience we wanted people to have. That list helped us to recognize what to say “no” to and what to entertain as a possibility. When you’ve been portable for several years, it’s easy to get excited about a place of your own and then neglect putting work into defining all of the specific details that you’re looking for beyond just, “four walls that are ours.”

We defined what we wanted people to experience in all areas: driving in and out of the parking lot, walking in and out of the building, and checking in their kids. We thought through where we wanted people to congregate and where we wanted them to be in motion. Our auditorium is on a second floor, so we planned out what we wanted people to see when they got to the top of the stairs and what they should see when they reached the bottom of the stairs on their way out. We even thought about what we wanted the experience in our bathrooms to feel like.

The list of what we thought about and defined is longer than I could include here, but hopefully you get the idea—feel matters, and you have to do a lot of work to plan that and the experience you want people to have in your facility, far beyond the service itself.

Participation matters.

While we did use a construction company for our building process, we also did over $100,000 worth of work ourselves. Our very own people did demolition and took on projects all over the building. This ended up creating a high level of ownership where each person found that they had skin in the game. I watched as relationships formed between individuals who had attended the same church together for years, but never interacted. Others came out of the woodwork and went from casual attenders to finding an area where they could get engaged and establish permanent and significant roles in the church.

Originally, our decision to do a lot of work ourselves was driven by budget, but in the end we learned that we would choose to do much of the work ourselves next time as well, even if we have all of the funds to pay a company to do it. Our construction project built more than a building. It built relationships; it built commitment; it built excitement; it built buy-in. It also built a greater anticipation for how this place will be used to reach more people for Jesus than I believe would have been built if we had hired someone to do all of the work for us and simply handed us the keys when they were finished.

Years earlier, I thought that God was going to give us a building. Instead, I think God knew that we had to first develop our voice before we had a place. Now, we have both.

By: Craig McGlassion

Paradox Church