Faith Complexes: Takin Care of Business

When a faith-based complex approaches a quarter-million SF under roof, and you have a congregation numbering in the thousands, the job of running a church facility takes on the look of a fine-tuned business operation.
Two of Tulsa’s largest church campuses – Asbury United Methodist Church, 6767 S. Mingo Road, and Grace Church, 9610 S. Garnett Road – each have building administrators, facilities directors and a small army of personnel to ensure operations run smoothly.

Asbury’s Growing Pains
Asbury already has 234,000 SF under roof, and it is expanding its children’s areas by 25,000 SF, said Julie Reynolds, CFO and managing director of development. The church has a membership of about 7,000.
“I have a facility manager, Jeff Polk, who reports directly to me, thank goodness, because this is a huge campus to maintain,” Reynolds said. “Then, we report to what we call the Board of Trustees, which is the management body for the actual facilities and capital improvements we do.”
In just the facilities division, Asbury has eight full-time maintenance staff, not including Reynolds and Polk. The expense budget for 2007 $640,000.
In fact, facilities operation is but a small part of the business functions of the church managed by Reynolds. She also oversees finance, membership, data management, IT, development, hospitality, food service, communications, HR and building projects.
Those departments brings her staff 45, out of about 100 full- and part-time people employed by the church.
The growth of the church, which has been near 20 percent per year since the new facility opened three years ago, has caused Asbury to accelerate its master plan for the site and expand its youth facilities, Reynolds said. Phase two includes enlarging the nearby Tulsa Ice Arena, which the church bought in 2005, from 38,000 SF to 53,000 SF, and adding a student ministry area and worship auditorium.
With growth has come the need to enhance other business functions of the church.
“Probably the thing that we have really gotten much better at is our banking relationships,” Reynolds said. “When I came on, our budget was about $4 million. Now, it’s $8.2 million, and we have also raised capital funds.
“Investing is a big deal because we have a lot of money to maintain and invest. Development is a big deal – dealing with donors and having enough knowledge about charitable contributions and different vehicles for giving purposes. And, insurance is huge when you think about the implications of liability on a $35 million facility.
The logistics of providing services for thousands of people presents some of the church’s greatest challenges, she said.
“Parking is a nightmare – that is probably our biggest struggle,” she said.
“When you look at our parking, it looks massive. But on Sundays, it is gridlock.”

A Graceful Change
Albert J. Poncel, director of church ministries, outreach and missions at Grace Church, 9610 S. Garnett Road, points to shifts in the culture of people attending church for the major changes in the operation of the Grace Fellowship Inc. campus.
Situated on 80 acres, the eight-building campus has 181,000 SF under roof with numerous services and activities happening nearly all the time, including its church services for about 2,800 members, Hispanic services for 250, the Grace Christian School for 400 students, a ministry school, counseling services, a bookstore and even Covenant Federal Credit Union.
Including the Christian school, there are about 180 full- and part-time staff on the campus, with about 80 in the church itself.
Poncel said he has watched the campus change since he started with the church in 1984.
“We went from where everybody came on Sunday and left, to now a full-fledged facility,” he said, citing the change in culture.
“Now they are looking for a church that is much more community- and family-oriented. That is why we have this $13 million children’s building sitting over here, and this $1.5 million youth building. They want a place the kids can come and enjoy.”
“We have divorce care, we have all kinds of children’s events – all of those things that fit community and family, which,” he said, “creates this massive animal of a building – cleaning, securing and upkeeping this building.”
The operations budgets alone, not including labor costs, is about $1 million a year, according to Vic Meyer, director of operations.
Among the changes Poncel has seen in operations is the need for increased security.
“Because we have so many buildings, and they are open to so many people, No. 1 is security,” he said.
Regardless of the business trappings, the facilities still house churches.
“I could oversee the operations and security of any business, and what I do would not change substantially. But, doing those things for the ministry allows me a critical role in affecting positive change long term – in fact, eternity,” Meyer said. “It’s never just stuff, just buildings, just business. It is about people – always about people.” ?

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