Dirk Dalhausser & Kerry Jones on Building Churches
Date: February 11th, 2018

Have you ever wanted to build a church?  And by “building a church,” we’re talking about the physical building that houses the congregation.  What factors go into deciding how large the building should be, what types of space should be included in the interior, and how many parking spaces need to be allotted for peak use?  To answer these questions and more, we are joined by Dirk Dalhausser and Kerry Jones from Goff Companies, a national church planning, construction, and real estate business headquartered in Dallas, Texas.  Mr. Dalhousser serves as a project architect and Rev. Jones is a director of church planning.  Our conversation begins by getting a bit of background on our two guests and a brief history of Goff Companies.  Tony then presents these gentlemen with his own plan to build a cute, little New England-style church and demands to get it up and running in a few weeks.  Fortunately, both Dirk and Kerry know better and tell him to slow down and start with a preliminary consultation to develop a plan.  Although our discussion here is a bit facetious, Kerry points out that it is not uncommon for pastors and boards of elders to come to their company with architectural plans already drawn up, and that these plans often are too ambitious either for the finances that the congregation has or the land that they intend to use.

Kerry and Dirk detail some of the first steps that a congregation has to go through in thinking about what the appropriate structure would be for their intended use.  A conversation needs to be held as to what the congregation’s mission and top priorities are, and then  an assessment of current use, growth trends, and the church’s “DNA” should be conducted.  This latter analysis includes mapping out where congregants are coming from, what physical barriers are in the way of the planned site (e.g., a lake), and whether there are other demographic shifts in the area that would affect the size of the church’s membership.  We note how sensitive a few miles or the need to drive around a lake can affect who attends a church. Our conversation covers a number of other features that go into the planning stage such as the visibility of the church in the community, how much land will be needed, what can realistically be built on that land, and various governmental regulations that need to be met.  Many congregations that are breaking ground on a new site are often asked to help develop some of the infrastructure in the surrounding area (e.g., roads, sidewalks).  Our guests bring up how the recent rise of “multi-site services,” linked by various communication technologies, are reshaping the design of churches, with a tendency towards building (or renting) more structures as compared to building megachurch building that can seat thousands of attendees.

We review a number of the important component parts that need to be considered in the building process in order to provided a balanced facility directed at the intended uses of the physical structure.  The worship center (or sanctuary) is obviously a central feature of any church building, but how it is set up for audio-visual needs and attendance comes into play.  Tony learns that at a distance of about 90 feet from the podium, there becomes a need to create stadium-style seating that allows those in the back to gain a better view.  We also discuss semi-circle type seating that facilitates a “togetherness” feel to the services, as well as the various technology features that determine how the stage area is constructed.  One of the key aspects of the seating design is to provide enough seats so that crowding doesn’t discourage people from attending, but not having too many seats such that the worship center seems “uncomfortably empty,” as Kerry calls it.  The importance of a commons area is discussed.  (After taping the interview, Dirk and Kerry mentioned that open commons areas tend to encourage new attendees who are not familiar with others to come in, whereas a small foyer can actually frighten guests and potential members away.  The more open and easy to maneuver the commons area is, the more inviting it will be to newcomers.)  We also talk about various other spaces such as educational areas and space that could be used for other activities during the week, including things that might be open to the community at large (such as places to host meetings or play basketball).  Parking is another major concern that is often overlooked and Dirk notes that while many municipalities require churches to have one parking space for every 3-4 seats, a church that has several other activities going on may need to think about a 1:1 ratio.  The timing of services also becomes critical for ensuring that traffic flow doesn’t become a problem that could chase people away.  Tony raises some questions about tax liabilities and the parsonage (pastor’s house) and how that all factors in to the land use.

We finish off the interview with some discussion on trends within the industry.  Both guests note the movement towards less “symbology” on the physical building.  This is not only intended to draw in the unchurched who might be scared off by lots of religious accoutrements, but sometimes the financers providing the funds for the building want a structure that could be repurposed and sold easily should the congregation move out.  Both Dirk and Kerry talk a bit about some of their favorite projects and the joy the receive from helping a church meet its goals and then later returning to see how the space has suited their needs.  Both see this not only as a business, but as a calling to serve God by helping others missionize in creative ways.  They finish with some of their reflections on what they have learned over the decades and what they would have told their younger selves if they had the opportunity to travel back in time.  Recorded: February 9, 2018.


 Dirk Dalhausser’s bio and Kerry Jones’s bio at Goff Companies.

A list and photos of sample projects that Goff Companies has completed in recent years.

Healthy Church CFO, an LLC run by Kerry Jones.


Jeremy Lott on Mormons, Pope Francis, and Ugly Churches.

Jim McGuffey on Church Security.

Richard Hammar on Churches, Taxes, Donations, and Liability.

James Hudnut-Beumler on the History of Church Financing in the US.

Dave Travis on Megachurch Myths.

Warren Bird on Church Leadership Teams.

William Vanderbloemen on Pastoral Transitions.

Jordan Lorence on Church Property Cases.

David Cortman on Religious Liberty Cases.

Russ Roberts and Anthony Gill on Religion and Religious Liberty (an EconTalk simulcast).

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