Retrofitting: The Future of Church Construction?

by | Case Studies, Design-Build, Facilities

We can all agree that the last two years have been crazy. Real estate has skyrocketed, supply issues are affecting everything from paint to plastic to plywood, and the cost of everything has gone up. Each of these presents a problem in daily life for each of us, but it adds up to a huge problem for construction, especially for a church needing a new church building.

Enter a solution called retrofitting! Retrofitting is the principle of taking a space not originally designed as a church facility and modifying it into one. While this was a trend that was gaining popularity even before the issues mentioned above, it is now becoming an excellent solution to some of these problems for pastors and churches.


Forward City Church

Pastor Travis Greene with Forward City Church in Columbia, South Carolina was able to purchase a former Best Buy facility for less money that it would have cost just to do the sitework and parking lot on a new build. Then, we at Churches by Daniels were able to transform the space into his ideal facility in less than a year while reusing some of the original things in the building to save costs on functionality. Because of the money saved, we were able to then spend those funds on the features the church needed, such as a recording studio and green room, as well as the largest and highest playground in the region for their children’s wing.

Pastor Travis says that when he outgrows this building, he will continue to choose retrofitting. “That’s probably going to be my model,” he says. “You avoid so many headaches and save so much money because the ground is already leveled. There’s already cement, which is crazy expensive. There are so many advantages to just literally going in with some sledgehammers and opening the space so you can build it out how you want.”

Church on the Move

Church on the Move’s Broken Arrow campus was renting a performing arts center that they had more than outgrown when they were able to purchase a former gym in a shopping center, which had previously been retrofitted from a grocery store. How’s that for upcycling? One of the most attractive things about this building to campus pastor, Ethan Vanse, was its location on the corner of the busiest intersection in Broken Arrow and right off a heavily traveled highway. Building a church in such a popular and well-developed location would be impossible without retrofitting. On that project we were able to reuse things like light fixtures and plumbing to again save some functional costs to the church.


Now, after reading of those success stories, you might be ready to go buy an empty warehouse and move your church inside—but there are a few things to carefully consider as you choose a building for retrofitting.


Especially currently, with such a high demand for property of any kind, it’s vital to be careful with “a good deal.” Purchasing a building to renovate or retrofit should be considered through the lens of the long-term investment that it is. What is the area around the property like? Will you need to expand in the future? If so, is there available space for an expansion? Yes, asking questions and thinking about the overall, long-term options and value of the property will narrow down your options, but it will also help direct you to the best fit for the needs of your church.

Local Zoning

Zoning laws are easy to look up, but a lot harder to get around! If the property in question is zoned for commercial purposes, the city might be resistant to allow permitting for a church, preferring a retail space that will in turn provide the city with sales tax. If the property is residential, while it’s not unheard of to get special permission to build, it is very difficult and would be a challenge not just from the city but also from residents of the area.


The average parking ratio that the city will require for a facility is going to be 1:4, one space for every four members of your church, but in reality, you need to have a ratio of 1:2. An easy way to get an accurate number that you need for parking is to physically count the number of cars in your parking lot during a worship service and then compare that number with attendance that day. Having sufficient parking is imperative to grow and keep your congregation. If a first-time guest can’t find a place to park, they won’t stay and might not return. Even long-time members might be frustrated if they can’t find parking while trying to get their small children in the door on a Sunday morning.

Condition and Structure

Most buildings have a lot of potential to be retrofitted into a facility that’s going to maximize your ministry. However, we must be honest about the distance between potential and reality. If the possibilities and dreams outweigh the budget, it’s better to consider another facility that needs less modifications or repairs.

Interior of the new location of Church on the Move before retrofitting

On a practical note, what of the current facility can be reused and what needs to be replaced? What’s the condition of the roof? Do you need to install new or additional HVAC units? How’s the foundation? Does it already have enough bathrooms? On that same note, what of the existing interior could be repurposed? Church on the Move saved money by reusing the existing lighting fixtures and incorporated them into the interior design plans. That is a great way to save additional costs.


Counting the real cost must be done before purchasing a building. You don’t want to spend your budget on a building you can’t afford to retrofit into your church or that has bigger problems than you can afford to fix. Also, consider the area of town and what the property will, or won’t, be worth as the years pass.

Don’t discount phasing either. Considering budget numbers broken out into phases can help get you into the building, get it functional for your ministry, and then continue to add in things over time, such as additional classrooms, gathering spaces, and improvements to your children and youth spaces.

Ground up construction or purchasing an existing church isn’t the only way to get the facility you imagine for your church. Retrofitting might be a great option to make your ministry dreams a reality.

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