September 18, 2012 by: Ben Heimsath

Master Plan Do%27s and Don%27ts resized 600Start a business without a business plan?  The fact is, you couldn't!  No one would lend money or invest in your business unless you laid out a clear vision for the venture. 

A facilities master plan is just like a business plan, it is an essential first step for any significant building program.  
All too often organizations and congregations jump into a building program with no master plan at all.  Like a business without a business plan, they're making the job ahead much more difficult and prone to failure.

People will support a project when they know the priorities, understand how resources will be invested, and when they share in the overall vision for the future. Some groups have a master plan but it's old or outmoded and doesn't convey an overall plan or vision.  But many try to start building with no master plan at all.

Does your group or congregation need to be master planning?  Download the 10 Essentials of a Master Plan and let us know how we can help. 

Master Planning: 10 Essentials

 I have seen many instances where groups who should master plan are confused or have a negative association with master planning.  In some cases, there have been previous plans that have failed due to poor organization or unclear expectations.  But in most cases, it seems that people just aren't clear about what a master plan does and doesn't do.  The following list has been a useful resource to several recent clients.  It helped them move forward by being very clear about what to expect from a master plan.     


The purpose of the master plan is to establish a conceptual framework and guidelines for the future building and development goals of the Church, Community Building or other group.

What it Does:

Establishes a framework for change.

A master plan is all about preparing for change.  These may be drastic, or modest.  The need for making improvements of all kinds are organized and directed into concrete proposals.

Prioritizes program requirements.

People have different interests and priorities.  The master plan can emphasize the most important priorities based on the overall needs of the group or community. Lesser priorities, however, can be included and shown fit in the overall plan.

Develops general design image for the development program.

What will the future look like?  How does it change what is currently in place or how will it stay the same?  The overall architectural concept can be presented in computer 3-D and/or watercolor rendering.  Some groups utilize a walk-through movie to present their ideas.  See our blogpost on presentation movies.

Considers phasing options for implementation.

Everything can't be done at once.  The first phase for construction or renovation can be presented as part of the overall master plan.  Future phases can be shown with indications of the desired order of implementation.   

Estimates general costs for future budgeting.

Early estimates will be based on overall size and configuration of the projected building program.  In the master plan stage, an actual project hasn't been refined and costs may drop or rise.  We suggest a contingency factor be added to all projections.  Be realistic about budgeting and include all anticipated or potential costs.

Anticipates a strategy for permitting process.

Visions for future construction has to include a realistic assessment of the permits and entitlements required.  Approvals often take time, and a master plan should explain what's involved and how long it may take.

The Master Plan St John Lutheran resized 600

The Master Plan for St. John Lutheran Church used color-coding to show all the planned uses.

What it Does Not Do:

Makes specific design decisions.

Ties the organization's hands.

Automatically starts a building program.

Becomes a static document.

This video was produced for Emmaus Catholic Church to present the master plan.  We've updated it with images of the completed project.


Master Planning: 10 Essentials

Download the 10 Essentials of a Master Plan

Church Design & Construction/ Architects and Construction/ Design Process/ Master Plan/ Site Development