Most pastors have facility needs. Perhaps you’re bursting at the seams in your current building and need to get into a new building, or maybe you just need to revamp your office. The children’s ministry at your church might be growing by leaps and bounds, or there could be a food ministry that needs to be helped.

We’re about to get real about what it takes to make something truly unique out of nothing, or, even more difficult, out of what’s already there. It’s fun to look at fabulous pictures of new spaces, or even “before and after” results, but how does a person actually get from a vague idea to a finished, effective space? Here are three steps to visualizing your new facility.

Step 1: Start a List

Creating a new space, or renovating an existing one, requires significant organizing, and projects of this scale can be overwhelming when beginning. The place to start is to put down on paper what major details need to be considered in your project.

Now, your gut reaction will often be to start listing specific details: buy paintbrushes, hire a contractor, draw a blueprint. However, you must start with the big questions: Who are we as a church, what is our vision, and what are the needs of our ministries?

As you list your items, make sure to consider these areas:

  • What are your needs?
  • What are your wants?
  • What are your hopes and dreams for how your facility can serve your congregation and the community?
  • What are the most urgent needs for the space? (this will determine your short-term goals.)
  • What are the long-term goals?
  • What activities will need to happen inside the space? (For example, Mother’s Day Out programs, rehabilitation ministries, community involvement, and discipleship.)
  • What feelings are most important for each ministry? (For example, should people feel encouraged, inspired, safe, tranquil, welcome, etc.)

This is a physical “memory dump” of your thoughts related to the project. I recommend buying a new journal or starting a dedicated folder to keep your ideas together—it’ll be overflowing before you know it! We’re all distracted, and we’re often managing several key projects, so keeping clear, organized notes from the beginning is key. You’ll appreciate the effort later on!

Keep this list with you, and add to it often. You’ll want to use this when you start conversations with your team, staff, architect, and whoever can help you dream.

Remember what Einstein said about time: “If I had one hour to solve a problem, I’d spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.” Now, some might use this as an excuse to procrastinate, but what Einstein is really saying is that if you want the very best solution, you had better understand the problem, the needs, and the key factors in your decisions.

Step 2: Get Inspired

As a pastor, you’re very busy. So, when you hear a vague phrase like “get inspired,” you might be tempted to skip to the more “practical” steps.


True inspiration is the difference between thinking “that’s a cool idea” and thinking “we have to do this.” It’s the heart behind your work and what moves you from creating average work to providing truly valuable results for others. It’s the most difficult and most rewarding part of a project.

When the going gets rough down the road, you can look back to what inspired you and remember why you started in the first place. Here’s how to start getting inspired:

Look for sources of inspiration

  • Ask for advice. Talk to people you trust and listen intently to their responses to your ideas you’ve gathered so far.
  • Clip some images from online. If you haven’t used Pinterest, it can be a valuable tool for ideas.
  • Visit places you feel are similar to the look you are going for, but also some that just make you feel good for no reason you can define. Take pictures of these places.
  • Write down your reaction to and feelings about these places.
  • Clear your head, and then, when you’re completely relaxed, daydream again about your space.

Organize your inspiration

  • Get everything you’ve gathered into a big pile on a clean, empty table, and spend some time alone with these pieces of the puzzle.
  • Organize the types of spaces you’ve found, and the ideas you’ve come across, into categories you can later come back to.

Steps 1 and 2 need to be conducted concurrently throughout the days when your idea is first coming to life. You may feel you are wasting time, but you’re not—you are listening quietly while your brain forms a plan.

Step 3: Create Your Working Plan

Last, you’ll bring all of your ideas together. At this point, you have a lot of ideas that you’ve gotten down on paper—you’re off to a great start. Your final step will be to take all of those ideas and organize them. Your end result will be that the vision in your mind is out on paper so that other people can see what you have been considering.

Before you begin, make sure you have a type of paper that comes in a roll. Tracing paper works best. Either purchase a roll of tracing paper or try a roll of freezer paper from the kitchen. A legal pad (apologies to the list makers) won’t cut it here. You need room to spread out your ideas.

Next, get out your list from Step 1 and your pile of ideas from Step 2 and introduce them to each other. Roll out about two feet of paper and use a Sharpie to write down your ideas from Step 1. Leave plenty of room between each idea.

Under the Step 1 ideas, arrange the clippings, pictures, words, and thoughts from Step 2 as best as you can. You may be organizing these according to themes, building space, or something else—this will depend on the project you’re working on. Start to carefully consider where your inspiration might inform you on what direction to go. Work while you’re in the zone and walk away when you aren’t. Come back when you’re ready.

The reason that you need your paper to roll is that this project is going to evolve. When you come back to visit your “collection,” it may seem all wrong. (If you think you’ve got it figured out very quickly, remain open-minded. That’s very rarely the case.) Roll out more paper and keep going. Your ideas will get more refined the more you consider them, and you’ll also learn where you have holes. For instance, you could find an idea on the list where you need more inspiration, or an amazing idea which you just know fits somewhere but you can’t figure out where.

What you are trying to do is to get the left side of your brain (“the list”) and the right side (“the inspiration”) into full discussion. Sometimes you’ll feel pulled to one line of reasoning or the other. Try to remain neutral and facilitate the conversation by filling holes and remembering as many needs, hopes, and wants as you can.

One more note—people who sit down with graph paper, or worse—drafting software—and draw “plans” in a couple of hours are cheating themselves. Doing the process rapidly means you’ll often miss out on the best solutions for your church. Remember the heart of any building project: you want the space to serve the people in it.

When you’re finished with these three steps, you’ll be ready to begin sharing your vision with your team members and communicating your wants and needs to your architect. Take time with this work, giving yourself space to be inspired and think through how a new or renovated facility can improve the lives of people. Your church building is one of your biggest ministry tools. Set yourself up for success in your new space.