Church Building Plans – The New Paradigm

By • on May 14, 2008 • Filed under: Church Design

I am really exited over the relationships we have built with a number of church builders and architects. However, the relationships I am the most stoked over today are those with 3 forward looking architectural firms (who all have a heart for the church) that I believe are driving a paradigm shift in how many churches will go through the design process.

As I have previously noted, it is possible for churches to get church building plans from previous building programs for a fraction of the cost of design from scratch. Granted, these plans need to be modified for local conditions and building codes, but the church is able to save approximately half of the cost of their church design by starting with existing plans.

There are three distinct advantages, in addition to cost savings, in starting with existing church plans:

It saves time. It is much easier (read faster) to pick out an existing plan rather than try to go through the give and take process of trying to explain it to an architect. It is much like picking out a suspect from a lineup instead of trying to describe them to sketch artist.

Using existing, or stock, building plans also allows you to get an accurate construction cost early in the process from working drawings that cost as little as $2,995 – as opposed to spending 10’s of thousands (or more) to get to the same point designing from scratch, especially when the vast majority of churches cannot afford to build the plans that the architect typically provides in the first pass.

Likewise, you can start the preliminary plan approval process sooner with the city or county, again, without having to invest months and tens of thousands of dollars to get this process rolling.

In addition, existing church building plans are a definitive point for identifying what changes the church would like to make. I always say “it ain’t yours ’till you mess with it”, and this is certainly true of church plans. By limiting changes to interior walls and not changing the fundamental structure of the building, these changes will not make a significant impact on the overall cost or invalidate the preliminary cost estimate. Once the church has made all the red-line changes they feel they need, the architect can give them a quote on turning those uncertified plans into final, sealed construction documents, usually at 40-60% less than the traditional design process.

As a church building consultant I recommend that any church should at least investigate this option as part of their due diligence. To make it even easier, we offer a church plan search service at no cost to the church. We have a close working relationship with all three of these industry changing firms and we would be please to help you find the right church building plan for your church

Next post, I will show how this fits into a larger strategy that I consider just about the best way to design and build a church.


  1. Don Lovell says:

    Be careful, you may be leading people down a dead end road. About the only use for existing plans is to see a model. The Universal building code changed recently and one of the largest impacts is a relaxing of fire proofing with a corresponding increase in exit corridors. By using existing plans you could be selecting a sub-optimum plan. In addition unless the plans are available in DWF format they have to be redrawn. And lastly it is very difficult to get a legitimate architect to copy rather then create. That leaves you with a draftsman as the most likely candidate to take on this type of work. They do not have the expertise to do church architecture.

  2. SteveA says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    I appreciate your good intentions, and I agree that using existing plans is good for seeing options and reducing design time. The balance of your comments, while well meaning, are based on invalid assumptions and a lack of understanding of the process as it works here in the States.

    The use of existing plans is not exactly new, and has demonstrated that it can easily reduce the time and the cost to produce certified plans, often trimming months and tens of thousands of dollars off the process.

    The firms I know that do this are church architects of good, and legitimate, reputation. Church plans are provided as AutoCad files with a one-time right to use license that permits any architect licensed in that state to modify the plans without violating copyright. I agree that it is unethical for one architect to copy the work of another, without their permission. However, the local architect is doing the work with the permission and license from the originator of the plans. The derivative work becomes the intellectual property of the local architect provided “substantial change” has been made to the plan. The local architect will make such changes as requested by the church and required by local building code in order to seal the plans.

    To be perfectly honest, however, the architect that can make the changes the fastest and easiest (translate cheapest) is usually the one that designed the plans in the first place. The church, however, has a choice and the option to shop around to find if someone else (qualified) will do the work at a better rate – if so, praise the Lord. As you should be aware, a draftsman cannot seal plans, so that is not a real concern. As to your last point, I have seen a lot of architects that did not have the expertise to do church architecture. I assume that you are a fine architect of Canadian churches, but I am sure you have seen the work of some who were not.