December 16, 2010 by: Ben Heimsath

I frequently tell people I have the greatest job ever!  I help groups imagine the places they most cherish, then I help create them.  Often, I'm asked what is different about designing for a church, or temple or synagogue.  How are these sacred places different than an average commercial or residential project?  I offer a short list of several issues that are unique to buildings for congregations and worshipping communities, and what makes them all so very special:


SRC tower const

How Do We Create A Sacred Place? 

Architects and builders specify all sorts of things, but there's no way to specify holiness.  We work with many faith traditions, and each has some specific space or arrangement to accommodate their rituals or liturgies.  These are generally quite simple and leave significant latitude for how they are to be accommodated.  But even once the ritual needs are met, there's no way to guarantee the awesome experience that is felt by a visitor to a truly holy or sacred environment. 


My advice to each group is to start with the traditions and spaces they have experienced in the past then stretch to envision other opportunities.  Though not a guarantee, I believe it is important to state that there is a goal for making a place of sacred worship.  Once this is clearly articulated, many subtle opportunities may be discovered and become part of the project.


How Does A Community Participate?

How?  In every way possible!  The entire congregation or worshipping community is the whole reason for building.  Of course, that doesn't mean the process is a free-for-all.  I will often count the congregation members and remind the group that we aren't building 250 or 800 or 2000 different buildings.  Rather, the process is all about synthesizing the energy and creativity of the community into a single, focused design.  Through a step-by-step process tailored to the needs of each group, we are able to time and again, create amazing solutions that meet a wide range of functions and aspirations.

drw viewing of solutions

How Will We Pay For It?

Churches, Temples and Synagogues get built by successful fundraising and realistic phasing.  A church or worshipping community typically can't do everything at once.  Many groups start with debt from property purchases or previous building programs.  There are a very few opportunities for outside groups or foundations to participate in the fundraising, but these are quite the exception.  For the most part, communities need to set challenging, but achievable goals for a capital fundraising and then work closely with banks or other financing agencies.


Determining a realistic budget and phase of work isn't a fixed formula.  Some groups look at the congregation's annual budget and anticipate a capital campaign of one, two or even four times the amount.  Others look at the motivation factor.  A Sanctuary or worship space may generate more interest than a classroom or parish hall.  Financing may require approvals from a denomination committee or other approving agency.  Working closely with the architects and contractors, the more definition of the overall size and scope of the project, the easier it is to successfully raise and secure funding.

Church Design & Construction/ Design Process