Why Church Buildings Matter: An Interview with Tim Cool

I am continuing my Sunday afternoon blog series on church facilities. This week I am pleased to interview Tim Cool. Tim has assisted more than 350 churches (over 4 million square feet) throughout the United States with their facility needs. He has collaborated with churches in the areas of facility needs analysis, design coordination, pre-construction coordination, construction management, and lifecycle planning/facility management. Tim is a conference speaker for numerous national conferences and seminars.

When a church thinks that they have a facility or building issue that is impacting their ministry initiatives, where should they start the process?

I believe that church buildings matter because people matter.  With that context, we cannot start with the building as the primary focus or the starting point of any discussion.  It has to start with the vision, mission, culture, and DNA of the church. Who are you? Why do you exist? Why do you do things the way you do?

Another way to articulate this is looking at what makes your church unique. What is your intentional difference? Human DNA is the indicator that confirms that every human being God created is different. The same applies to every church.  They are all different and it is critical to start at that point in the discussion.  Until that can be fleshed out and fully adopted by the leadership, there is no reason to talk about buildings.

If we start with understanding the uniqueness and the intentional difference of the church, then what? Do we jump to the building at this point?

I believe the uniqueness discussion is only the foundation that needs to be laid in order to drill down on the WHO/WHY evaluation. Once the leadership can identify their uniqueness, then that leads to understanding the “story” that will be told as the manifestation of that uniqueness. The uniqueness is great for the inner sanctum of your lead team or elders, but there must be an outward communication or story-telling of this uniqueness. That then leads to grappling with the how/why we do the things we do to communicate the story. Why do we do education the way we do? Why is our worship services structured like they are? On and on the discussions need to go.

On the heels of these discussions is when to then determine the best TOOL to accomplish the previously assessed components.  Notice I said tool and not building. Although I have been involved in facility development for over 28 years, I am convinced more than ever that a building is NOT always the best tool. It may be a playground, or a ball field, or a rented soup kitchen, or it may be giving your building fund to a mission’s organization. I believe the word “building” should be removed from our planning vocabulary until it is decided if a physical structure is the right tool.

In your book, Why Church Buildings Matter, you talk about well digging vs. temple building.  Unpack that for me.

The concept is fairly simple and yet profound. It is based on the John 4 passage about the Samaritan woman at the well. We know that Jesus goes to a well in the middle of the day and meets a women with a sordid past and shares life with her by getting a drink of water, physical water, and then offers and provides living water, a relationship.

We have been notorious in building temples—buildings that are used one or two days a week. Places that people in our community believe you have to act, look, and smell a certain way to enter. A place with too many “thou shalt not” rules, whether they are real or perceived.

A well, on the other hand, is a part of the community and a common place. It was not a place that the community folk would think of when contemplating a place to “meet God.” And yet, that is exactly what happened. This common place become a destination where God met a women in need of a Savior, even though that is not what she was looking for that morning as she was heading out to gather water.

The story continued, and the women went and told her neighbors that there was something supernatural happening at the well and that they needed to come check it out. And they did. How cool is that? They headed to the well and not the “temple”.

I’ve heard you use the term “facility stewardship” and how the condition of a facility can impact the “story.” Why is that important?

Based on our research, as well as those of non-church experts, the cost to operate your facility can exceed 70% to 80% of the total cost over a 40-year span of time. In fact, the actual cost of sticks and bricks is usually less than 20% of the total life cycle cost, and yet we too often fail to properly care for the facilities God has entrusted to us. That can also reflect poorly on us to the guests that venture into our facilities…which can be that item that is a distraction to their experience and opportunity to hear the gospel. That would be a shame.


  1. says

    Outstandingly helpful interview! The “digging wells vs. building temples” is a great insight and perfect illustration of a significant issue. Thank you!

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