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"Church project deadlines? I love 'em. I love the whooshing sound as they fly past me."
"When can you tell exactly how long a church project will take? After it's finished."
"Want to make God smile? Tell Him your church project plans."

Ah, yes... church project management. It's both an incredibly valuable and very underrated skill set. Nevertheless, every growing church (yours included) uses project management to some degree or another. With it, things happen successfully. Without it, things... well, they fail. We've got some valuable project management insights for you today as well as some incredible software tools to elevate your church management abilities.

Whether you're looking to expand your space, improve your tech, or plan community outreach, project management is a crucial skill. To help increase your capacity in this area, we'll cover the following:

It's been said that church project managers turn coffee and prayer into progress. There's likely more truth to that than might first appear!

What Is Church Project Management?

Church project management is defined as the steps a church takes to complete a task that is focused on self-improvement. Think of church projects as infrastructure upgrades. They add more seats, install new screens or lights, upgrade computers or applications, or anything else that makes it easier to preach, worship, and reach as many people as possible.

The most difficult and intensive projects for a church involve construction, whether in a new building or renovating existing buildings, so this guide will focus more on construction projects. In the digital age, however, projects such as building your website, creating a live-streaming platform, or implementing church management software are just as important, if not more so. Evaluating and prioritizing which project gets executed frequently falls on the project manager, often in coordination with the church finance committee.

A church project manager is frequently one of the paid staff or key volunteers, depending on the church's budget. The people who work on a project may be volunteers, but you may need to work with contractors many times. Most large projects will likely be a mix of both. When the megachurch I worked at built its larger building, contractors did the heavy machinery tasks and technical work, but church staff and volunteers did a large portion of the manual labor.

Church project management rewards your church by making it easier to work and making your building more appealing to the people you are trying to reach. Many times, church projects don’t provide a direct, spiritual benefit to your people at first. Your community and members likely won’t receive the benefits until after the project has finished.

What Does a Project Manager Do In Their Church?

illustration of a megaphone church project management
Communication is a key part of a project manager's role within a church.

Project managers need to be the best communicators in your church. Most communication will happen between church leaders and members who share a common vision and common goals.  However, projects can bring in contractors who do not necessarily share those ideas. Your project manager needs to be able to communicate the needs and goals of the project with people who may not even share your faith. If you're struggling with communication, try the steps outlined in our church communications plan article.

In addition, project managers should be organized, punctual, and high-energy. On longer projects, such as building a new sanctuary or remodeling the current one, enthusiasm can flag among your volunteers, so a project manager who can keep morale up is essential. 

Organization, of course, is needed above all. Without organization, you will have everyone from contractors to volunteers standing around doing nothing. Organization also makes sure those contractors get paid (which goes back to the central importance of accurate financial reporting!)

A note on punctuality

A note on punctuality

Punctuality saves your church money. Contractors will arrive at the beginning of their workday and start their clock. If circumstances don’t allow work to continue, they will continue billing for their time whether or not your project manager is there to fix the problem. Be sure to clarify this point with any contractor you choose to work with.

Josh

Difference Between Church Events And Church Projects

Organizing church projects and organizing church events are similar in many ways and have some elements of overlap, but they have distinct purposes and outcomes. In simplest terms, projects serve the church itself, while events serve the community.

As noted above, church projects primarily serve to improve the church and your ability to accomplish your church’s mission. Church events, instead, improve the community through outreach, service, and, frequently, fun. A wedding is an event that improves the lives of the families who are gathered, but it is not a project that improves the church.

Another way to consider the differences is to consider the flow of resources. Events will usually double as fundraisers as well. Vacation Bible School can charge a small fee per child, which will generate some cash flow and educate your community’s children with Biblical concepts. Replacing your old pews with new theater seating will cost money and improve your sanctuary, so it is a project.

Knowing the differences between church projects and events, if you’re in the right place, keep reading! If not, you can read more about .

The Church Project Management Process

The process of church project management might feel daunting at first, but this section will break it down into simple steps that any church project manager can use to find success. Remember that no amount of note-taking can be considered excessive. In my personal experience, a three-ring binder and a hole punch are a project manager’s best friends for implementing the project.

Here's a sample process for a church construction project:

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Step 1: Starting The Project

Vision Casting

Every church project starts at the top. Depending on your type of church, your church board, your lead pastor, or your bishop will decide which of the church’s needs are most important and will be filled next. They will determine the budget, time frame, and project scope before any work begins.

Plan Development

The church project manager will then take those instructions and initiatives and develop a plan for accomplishing the project within the constraints provided by their church leadership team. Determining where costs can be trimmed through the use of volunteers, through previous relationships with contractors, or through business owners in the church needs to happen in this phase. Finding out that a church member owns a demolition company does not help after the walls are already coming down.

Big Picture Sign-Off

Finally, the project manager should submit the completed plan back to the church leadership for final approval before taking any action. Most churches have limited resources and cannot afford mistakes that cost tens of thousands of dollars. That number might seem large, but building expenses are always higher than you think. An ounce of caution in the planning phase can save thousands in the execution of the plan.

Step 2: Finalizing The Budget

After the plan is approved by the leadership, the project manager needs to finalize the budget by negotiating contracts, recruiting volunteers, and sourcing materials. Once every part of the plan has been covered, the project manager should bring the finalized budget to the church leaders for approval.

When setting the budget, especially with building projects, the church might need to take out a loan to cover some shortfalls. Most churches do this, and the Treasurer will be able to secure a loan if the church has a good credit score. Yes, your church, as a nonprofit corporation, has its own credit score and the ability to take out loans in its own name. Your church’s income will determine the size of the loans you can take, just like anyone else.

Expert tip: The final note on budgeting is that you will overrun your budget. Problems come up, things break, and unforeseen issues slow things down. For that reason, allocate at least 20% above what you think you need just to start. I have never seen a project come in less than that. The largest overrun I have seen was nearly double the budget. Be smart, and have a contingency plan for those issues. The worst that can happen is that you have extra money at the end if everything goes smoothly.

Step 3: Working The Project

Before your project can begin actual work, your local government inspectors will probably want to visit the worksite and approve the changes to your building and grounds before giving a construction permit. This step cannot be skipped. Otherwise, major fines and possible lawsuits could consume huge portions of your budget.

Permits

When your permits are granted, be sure to display them according to the instructions either found on the permits themselves or given separately by the inspectors. As the project goes on, inspectors will show up, often unannounced, to inspect your team’s work and ensure that everything is being built to code. 

“”Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Building codes change over time, so inspections during remodeling frequently find safety issues that must be dealt with before construction can continue. This is normally the largest source of budget overruns in older buildings.

Expert tip: For new construction, be sure your contractors have fully up-to-date licenses and training. The most common overruns in new construction are redoing work from contractors who have not learned the new building codes. You may also find a contractor is cutting corners with materials or techniques. Be sure that your contracts include the ability to fire them for negligent behavior revealed by private or government building inspectors.

On Using Volunteers...

Volunteers will usually not have formal training in construction. For the same reasons as above, they should be supervised by someone who does have that training, although most inspectable work, by law, can only be done by licensed and bonded contractors. This work includes electrical, plumbing, fabrication, erection of structural elements, and so on. Generally, if a job can be performed by a union member, it must be.

Anytime a worksite has dangerous equipment or heavy machinery, the site should be considered closed unless a person goes through a check-in process and wears proper protective gear. Most contractors take care of this on their own. Your church will be responsible for the safety of your volunteers.

A comprehensive project planning phase shines here. A church project manager who accounts for as many details as possible propels the project forward despite inevitable setbacks.

Step 4: Closing The Project

Each project will have set goals according to the manager's plan in Step 1. As the project nears fulfilling those goals, the project manager is responsible for ensuring the work was completed correctly and, if so, paying the contractors and thanking the volunteers. Each step within the plan should be completed before victory is declared.

If it involves construction, the project cannot be completed until the final inspection. Ensure your contractors and volunteers are still available until that inspection is complete.

The project manager should write a final report detailing the project's highs and lows. This report tells future managers or refreshes the current manager’s memory of who worked well in which areas and who should be avoided in the future. Detailed notes of what went wrong in the inspections allow the leadership in older buildings to know what to look out for in future projects.

Step 5: Ongoing Maintenance

Many projects will require some maintenance. Expanding your sanctuary means more cleaning and seating. Upgrading your sound system means more technical expertise is needed in each service. Upgrading your computers or adding a church network can mean creating an IT department.

These continuing costs should be considered before starting a project. New things are only better if you can pay for them. Some projects, though, pay for themselves through saving on electricity or heating. 

For instance, new, high-efficiency windows in your church can save hundreds of dollars in utility payments every year. For this reason, a project that reduces continuing costs should be done before a project that increases them.

The Importance and Benefits Of Project Management For Churches

Church project management is one of the most important skills you can develop to grow your church. Here are some benefits: 

  • Successful project managers deliver new and upgraded experiences, both for your staff and your congregation. 
  • Completed projects establish good relationships in your community. 
  • Successful projects foster deeper bonds among your members who volunteer. 

Beyond the obvious benefits of a remodel, a new building, upgraded equipment, or whatever the purpose of your project is, church projects provide benefits that may not be immediately clear.

For instance, adding or expanding a kitchen for your homeless ministry will also provide a basecamp for team members to relax and eat during other events or projects. My own experience has seen many of the contractors start going to our church by seeing how we work and treat each other with love and kindness.

The possibilities of how you use the fruits of your projects are as endless as your own imagination. Therefore, the benefits are endless as well. With every project, try to think of at least three ways that you can use the upgrades. As I wrote in the budgeting step, most churches don’t have much money. Your ideas will make every penny count.

Tips & Best Practices For Church Project Management

illustration of a hard hat and tools for church project management
There's lots of tools to help you keep your church projects moving along.

Let me share a few of the best ways to keep your church projects organized and moving along. You will learn your own tips and tricks as you gain experience as a local church project manager, so always take notes, and never be afraid to ask the professionals questions that will help you do your job better.

  • Don’t hide your plan. While not everyone needs a full copy of the entire binder, every step of construction or finishing or maintenance should have a clear view of what is expected of them for their goal to be completed. Photocopies of a few pages combined into a packet and given to the foreman of a job will usually be enough.
  • Volunteers should have clear responsibilities. In every project, I usually have at least one volunteer who wants to be in charge of everything. Sometimes, I was that volunteer, which led to me joining the leadership team and filling the assistant youth pastor role. The problem is that, before I worked my way up, I was in the way by making the roles unclear. For my part, I was trying to help and doing it the wrong way. Others I’ve worked with just wanted some of the glory for themselves. Defined roles in a project prevent confusion, accidents, and mistrust.
  • Always pay your contractors promptly. Sometimes, you will have a dispute with a contractor over bad work. Don’t pay them until that dispute is resolved. In all other cases, pay them by the due dates outlined in your contract. It will foster good relationships and make them more likely to work with you again in the future.
  • Source your materials like a business. This is a repeat from the budget section, but it saves more money than everything else combined. Your church, as long as it is a 501c(3) corporation, is just as much of a business as the big home improvement store you currently shop at. They have suppliers, and you can too. Don’t pay the retail markup prices. Take advantage of your business status, plus the suppliers still have to honor tax-exempt cards, too.

Church Project Management Software

Our Top Six Church Management Software Recommendations:

My team and I have invested in deep research to analyze, compare, and rank the church management software that will MOST move the needle for you and your church. Here are our top picks:

Curious about the guts of church management software? If yes, then these articles are for you:

    Church Project Management: In Conclusion

    Successful church projects start with good project managers. This guide's tips and steps will provide you with a solid base on which to develop your project management skills. The benefits are plenty, and the worst problems arise from poor planning.

    Plan well, build well, finish well.

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    Joshua Gordon
    By Joshua Gordon

    Joshua Gordon is a lay-pastor, author, and editor of TheLeadPastor.com. Over the last two decades, Josh has worked closely with pastors and other christian leaders, helping them to sharpen and elevate their messages. Today, Joshua pastors at New Life Fellowship, a thriving church he helped plant in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.