The One Thing 347: Building Project Challenges (Kate Stace)

A building is more than just a rain shelter! How people see the building and how it's used can be a great asset to gospel work. Vine Church has gone through the process of renovating and rebuilding an inner city church.

Kate Stace is the Director of Ministry Operations. She shares:

  • Thinking about the next generation as you build
  • Why you should explain how a building project is connected to gospel work
  • Considering not just the people use it, but the people who walk past too
  • The expected time burden for the staff in pulling the project off
  • Getting people to give towards a building
  • Housing the church while the project is going on

Building Project resources Kate has made available

Advice on during and after builds from Andrew Robson

Kate's email if you have questions

Scott Sander's if you need more details on fundraising


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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

“LifeWay Leadership Podcast Network.

G’day, I’m Scott Sanders. Welcome to The One Thing, a podcast designed to give you one solid practical tip for gospel-centered ministry every week. Well, today that might be different because we’re going to be talking about buildings, and I’m hoping that there’s lots of tips, lots of, don’t do this.

I’ve been involved in a building project at my home church the last five or six years. Toby and Kate and the parish council, I think, have done a good job of leading and driving a building project that has taken six years of conceiving and raising money and breaking ground and building and then opening and then dealing with all the new things of opening up a new building. And so today we’re going to be talking with Kate Stace, who’s the director of ministry operations at Vine Church, about this building project.

My hope is that we can learn from her mistakes and mistakes at Vine Church so that we can make our own mistakes, new ones. It’s always better to build off of the mistakes of others so that you can have the joy of making your own mistakes.Kate, welcome to The One Thing.

Thanks for having me.

Now, Kate, we are going to be diving into the whole sort of process of buildings and everything else. What’s been your kind of one favourite thing through this whole process? So if you could sort of knuckle it down to a favourite moment in the whole process, you know, where you’ve laughed yourself silly and gone, oh my goodness, it’s all worth it for this moment.

Okay, so I’m going to pick two, sorry. One was we had an early site manager who we got on really well with, and he said to me one day that as they were laying the concrete foundations that I could write my name in the new building. And so being me, I wrote it in huge letters, did a drawing.

Parish Council discovered it the next day and had a call going, what have you done? So anyway, in 50 years time when they do a new building, they’ll rip up the carpet and you know, it’s a couple of layers of concrete down. “It’s not right in the foyer, but I love every time I walk over that spot, knowing that my name is written in huge letters underneath brings me a lot of joy.

But also just seeing the building come from plans and options and choices to seeing everything in real life. So, you know, we talked about the colour of the carpet for so long and seeing the colour of the carpet for the first time actually brought me a lot of joy. I feel like the building is my first baby and was the most, is much more stressful than an actual baby.

Camden, if you’re listening, your mum still loves you.

Baby easy, building hard.

But for now, you’ve pressed play on another episode of The One Thing. Building projects should be carefully considered. Emphasis on the carefully considered.

Now, Kate, why did you feel you needed to rebuild the building, perfectly good 1850s, Blackwell construction? Why, you know, why change, you know, beauty?

So I should say the Vine Church building or it was previously St Michael’s, beautiful building, heritage listed, sandstone building, you know, done by the same architect, Edmund Blackett, that did St Andrew’s Cathedral and a few other prominent churches.

I’m getting goosebumps as you talk about that, Kate.

I’ve learned a lot about Blackett, but beautiful building. And I guess one of the things is we never wanted to criticise the building, but what we realised was, you know, the building was 165 years old, and life has changed significantly, but also the needs and facilities that we needed as a church had changed significantly as well. So primarily, we were experiencing quite a few mission issues, so very difficult to find the entrance of the church, tiny, pokey wooden door, fenced off.

The City of Sydney had built a community garden in front of the church, which was all edible plants, but unfortunately, being Surry Hills, it went downhill quite quickly and got to the point where people would bury their drugs in the garden, and we would kind of watch them out the windows of the office. So this huge garden obscured a lot of the entry to the church, and you couldn’t see anybody that was inside. So you might have 200 people on site, but you wouldn’t be able to see it at all.

And we also faced a lot of practical issues, so the church wasn’t a hub for church events. So any events that we had, we had to do offsite at other places. And then we were facing significant maintenance costs, repairing the same things over and over that actually just weren’t fit for purpose.

But that’s all kind of on a practical level. I think the need to rebuild the building was actually thinking about, we have this building which previous generations sacrificed for us, and this building isn’t going to be fit for purpose and working in any shape or form in 40 or 50 years time. And so actually, I think every church and every generation has a responsibility to make sure that you’re furthering your church property for the next generation.

And that will look different for different churches. But I think that was what motivated us was we were struggling. And so there was no way that it was going to be functioning really well for our kids and grandkids in the future.

So it’s interesting you talk about kind of the intergenerational, the previous generation is invested heavily in the building, but also thinking about the next generation people use it. Yeah. You know, for me, that what I found so exciting about the whole kind of building fundraising campaign was, was the push for it’s all about connecting, you know, connecting with our community.

We’re actually actually thinking about the people that are going to be saved through this building, the people that are going to grow in their knowledge and their love of Jesus through this, through this, you know, through this space.

Yeah. Yeah, I think you probably could get me talking for hours about the actual fundraising. But two taglines that we had was buildings don’t save people, but what happens in them does because you actually want people to be giving to gospel work, whether they’re giving to a new roof, air conditioning, carpet, that’s, it’s almost irrelevant.

You want them to be giving to Christianity explored happening in 20 years time in the building and being able to have as many people as you can. And then the second kind of tagline that we had was we’re providing a home for the gospel in Surry Hills for the next generation because people in previous generations have given significantly to give us the property that we have now. And I think most churches couldn’t afford, you know, we certainly couldn’t afford to organize and buy that land ourselves now, but it’s all about we want Vine Church or we want other churches to be a home for the gospel in their suburb for the coming hundreds of years.

“So Kate, what were some of the considerations that you need to keep in mind in putting together the design?

Yeah. So we had a unique situation where we had three heritage buildings and a landlock site. So major roads in Sydney, there’s no chance for expansion.

We had old sandstone building, which was beautiful, but quite limited. An old rectory, which was a six bedroom house, two stories, and then a hall and a garden. So all very separate, all quite dark.”

“And one of our main considerations was what’s the experience of the person walking past? Because we get thousands of people walking past the church every day, who would have no idea that a church full of young people even exists there. So that was one of the main things, like having a big clear entrance was the opposite of what we had.

So now if you’ve been to Vine Church, the whole street funnels in this huge plaza with a big glass entrance. It’s very clear where to go and you can see people in there. Second thing was probably the use of the building.

So things like breakout spaces, venue hire, we have two morning services. So how do they cross over? Having enough space for kids.

And very basic but important things like toilets and the kitchen, crucial in thinking, what does it actually look like for people to use your building? What’s the people flow?”

“So you had three very separate buildings, no foyer space. Again, ideal for the 1850s, where people came to church and then went back home. Not great when you’re running multiple services across the Sunday.

So the building project connected those spaces but also gave you a massive big foyer space. So thinking about kids ministry spaces, thinking about toilets. But then you also had like the reality that you’ve got heritage constraints, which is often what we see in a lot of our churches.

Even the ones from the 1970s are finding more and more. They’ve got heritage things on them, those ugly kind of triangle shaped buildings. It’s just like, oh no, they’re a design feature from the 70s.”

“I’m like, well, let’s just kind of lose them.

I feel very split on that now because how do you get anything to be 170 years old? It’s got to go through an ugly phase where it’s out of fashion. But yeah, we had no disabled access.

There was one women’s toilet that would block probably once a month on a Sunday. Terrible experience, like once I had a first time visitor where that happened to her. And so you just think at that point, we really need to do something.

You know, we had old pews that were raised very, very hot in summer, very, very cold in winter. And air conditioning is a luxury, but also helps people listen to the service and actually engage with the word of God better. So even those things actually have a much deeper vision behind them in the project.”

“How do you think, like you say, you’ve already talked about the sort of the next generation. How do you think about a building kind of now, but also for the next 25 years?

Yeah, I think you want to build for growth. And often the breakout spaces and foyer spaces are what restrict people in their usage. So we have a 9.15 and 11 a.m.

service and they cross over. So how do you make sure that those services can actually interact and that you can have 9.15 people hanging around outside without disturbing the 11 a.m. congregation?

So that’s one thing. And then I think it’s very time consuming and labor intensive to run lots of small services. And so if you can, actually increasing your seating space is a huge thing.

So we managed to do that to the maximum that we could. But in a sandstone building, it’s very difficult to move the walls and widen it. So that was a joke.”

“Probably didn’t. So, you know, I think we got 30 more seats in there. But one of the big things was the inside of each of the three buildings also was redone.

So now it’s flexible. We can change the seating for each congregation. You can pack it all away and have events.

And that’s been a huge win for us, as well as the breakout spaces.

And in terms of managing the build, you’re in inner city church. You don’t have a whole bunch of tradies. You’ve got a lot of white collar workers.

Toby’s an accountant. You’ve kind of not even managed a renovation yourself, let alone a building.

Yeah, I’m probably one of the least handy people you’ll ever meet. So I actually changed a light bulb for the first time three or four years ago at Vine.”

“So tell us the process of choosing architects, building site managers, how did all that process could have come about? What are your thoughts?

Yeah, so it can be tricky, I think in a church where you have lots of people, lots of different expertise, it’s difficult to know what do you invest in and what do you not invest in. We had project managers and I think that that’s a must.

So building project managers who manage the actual building contract, the interface between the parish council and the ministry team.

And the builders and subcontractors. So that’s an absolute must, but it’s one of the things lots of people at church are like, why do we have project managers? Can’t we just manage this ourselves?

And so I think church ministry teams are experts in things like people flow. How does your building work? But we’re not experts in interior design, construction, managing subcontractors, lighting, soundproofing, all those sorts of things.

So we ended up going with an inner city architecture firm who, they weren’t cheap, but they were a strategic choice because our buildings were quite complex.

“We needed very good solutions because we had these old buildings and a very fixed footprint. But we also had a local council that doesn’t really understand much about churches today.

And so our thought was we wanted to pick a team that would be able to represent us well to the council as well and to plan well so that we didn’t have hangups trying to get DAs and plans approved.

So you’ve got a building manager. You’ve got an architect, a bunch of consultants that are helping you with various aspects of sound and lighting and other landscaping and other issues. Then the interface with your parish council, your committee of management, your eldership, who are tasked with the property and finance.

Yes, that’s right.

How does all that work?”

“It is quite complex. And so although I think that every church should be thinking about their building for the next generation, I don’t want people to think about it lightly because part of the reason why I feel so deeply towards the building is because it’s taken five years of my life. And there’s an intense feeling of satisfaction seeing it there, but I don’t want people to underestimate the amount of work that a building project takes and the distraction that it is for a staff team.

So I was often the interface for the church side of things, and then I would, you know, we tried to have communication as good as possible. So having me, Toby, our lead pastor, and then often kind of parish council representatives, meeting with the project managers, and then we also had the diocese side of things. So the property trust, the loan board, you know, your local bishop.

There’s lots of different people that you need to be communicating with in that situation.”

“And so during the build, well, COVID happened, but also during the build, we had to get off site as a church committee. So your ministry team are managing, you know, managing set up, packed down. They’re managing, you know, a relationship with a different provider and all the complexities that come with just kind of church, not, you know, where you don’t actually own premises.

Now, great news is Vine Church is a church plant, and so the history of that wasn’t kind of a distant memory, it was actually a part of the DNA of the church to set up and pack down. I want to though, not necessarily talk about that, but actually kind of move to the kind of the finance side of things. How much does budget and I guess your financial capacities at church impact your build?

Well, Scott, you were our treasurer during the project. No, so I think obviously the budget does drive the project to a degree. So you’ve only got a limited pool of money.”

“You can’t just manufacture millions out of nowhere, although it would be amazing if you could. So for us, we ended up actually having to stage our project in two halves, which was far more complex than we originally thought. We hoped to get it all done in one go, but COVID and financial constraints meant that we couldn’t.

It was a fairly wild time. We had to start a new congregation with two weeks’ notice because of the COVID restrictions while we were doing a building project and moving offsite. So it really was an extremely intense period of time, and there’s still a number of things that we would like to do.

So we had to cut the AV equipment being installed in our hall towards the end, and that’s something that we would love to do when we have the money. But I think on the other hand, you don’t want budget to fully drive the project because there are things that you might need to do because of vision or because of your situation where it’s actually a better idea to spend the money. So an example being good furniture.”

“I think you want to spend once to have it for 20 years. You don’t want to buy cheap chairs for your congregation to sit on where it’s no better than the old pews that we just spent.

So I’m just having trauma from that whole decision process of having to go and sit on five chairs.

So we would sit on the chairs, write notes, move on to another chair, 20 minutes, and then our staff team is all quite tall, and so people were worried that there was no short person’s perspective. So we got some short…

There’s just all these sorts of things that you never think of.

We might scrimp on money too much, where we actually need to invest for the long term use and buying once and buying well.

So money is not the only consideration in a building project. Yeah. How much time did it take for you in a week?”

“So I started at Vine in 2019 and was partially brought on because they knew that they had the project here. And our operations as a church are quite complex because of property and being in the city and professionalised culture and a few other things. So that was partially why my role was created.

And it was a heavy investment to begin with. So when I talk to churches and they don’t have any sort of resource in my vague area of operations, that makes me very nervous because I think the first two years, it was probably three or four days a week, lots of engaging with the church. We ran so many events for…

So this is the sort of fundraising, casting the vision, getting the money together in order to build the project.

And it’s very tricky to know, you don’t want to make decision by committee. So we took a mostly finalised plan to the church, but we did have people give input at the start. But I think there’s all sorts of things like that that you need to manage.”

“So very time intensive for the first two years, yeah.

And then once the build happens?

Yes, so while we were offsite, it was probably two days a week. Part of that was being offsite is just inherently a time sucker. It’s very labour intensive.

You’ve got to create teams out of nowhere. You know, you need to make sure that you don’t burn people out. So our play group had to move to running out of a park.

And so there’s all sorts of support that you need to give them for them to have a good experience of running a ministry as well.

So that’s the work, the work just managing the logistics of not being on a space and managing being in a rented space or a higher space at that time. The time taken to be on site for project management is as well.

And that was extra, like lots of meetings with the project managers, lots of looking at samples of everything. We went back and forth. There’s two parts of the garden, one’s AstroTurf, one’s real grass.”

“And I think we talked about that for eight months, which feels ridiculous, but it’s crucial to how the site operates now. And I think we made the right decision. But all those things, you almost end up with decision fatigue because you’re picking such a high level of things for the building, but they’re all important.

And what about now, just as Director of Ministry Operations, managing the building side of things and licensing and hires and everything?

Yeah, probably one day a week at the moment. We did experience some difficulties towards the end of the project, which is largely just the result of the Australian building industry not being in a good place. And so there was some operational complexity there.

Then you’ve got the building opening, and you need to set up everything really well for the first time. Not necessarily in the first week, but it’s much harder to pull things back and realise that you needed to do something very different. And then I think, you know, we still engage new members joining the Church and ask them to give towards the project.”

“So there is that ongoing element as well. And we want to communicate with Church members that they gave to something which was completely worth it. So you’ll never get a perfect building.

And, you know, we’ve had some challenges with ours and with the project, but I want people to go, wow, this is exactly what I gave towards, you know, I’m so excited for the gospel work that will happen here. And so there is still, I guess, your internal problem solving. And you might have, you know, you might wish that you did things differently, but I think there’s a wisdom as well in how do you continually engage with church members externally.

What about the burden for the senior minister? So you got a chance to sort of have a bird’s eye in how much time Toby had to spend on managing building projects, even though we had, again, building managers, architects, directory ministry operations. How much time did Toby also spend on the project?”

“Yeah, definitely still a significant amount. So part of that is the level of vision casting and pastoring and teaching that you need to do. So Toby wasn’t preaching on building projects, but he was preaching on gospel vision and really winning people to that.

Having lots of conversations with them, where actually your building project matches with discipleship. Like, what are people doing with their money? What are their expectations of church?

What level of buy-in do they have? And so he was extremely involved in that. And then just by virtue of having been around for 13 years, knew exactly, you know, how church should run.

So actually one of the main things that Toby, in the end, won me to was we’ve got a big kitchen, and I wanted a stainless steel commercial kitchen, like clean, you know, like a restaurant or something. But Toby was like, no, no, no, this is at the centre. This is where our ministry teams will be.”

“I want it to feel warm. And so we’ve ended up actually with this warm commercial kitchen where it’s not stainless steel. And I think that’s where it is really good to have your lead pastor being involved, actively making decisions, because you’re not just picking fittings and, you know, fitting out a house or a building, but you need to think about what’s the experience of serving teams.

And so your lead pastor actively needs to be involved.

So during building, how did it affect ministry?

Yeah, it’s hard for us to know what was the building project, what was COVID.

Yeah, it was a time of very big change. We, Surry Hills doesn’t have many venues that are happy to rent to a church and to have a church weekly, but we ended up going offsite to a design school, which was just the provision of God. They gave us a 90% discount on their hiring fees and gave us multiple spaces.

You know, it had a lift. It wasn’t perfect, but it was 90 metres from our church site, which is incredible when lots of people catch public transport or walk to church. “So we were very, very blessed to have that.

But it was very difficult to be offsite. So, you know, because we staged the project, we had the actual sandstone part for a little while. We had our staff desks up on the stage bit at the front of the church, and we had possums nesting.

We had rats. You know, Toby used to carry around this huge electric heater because it was so cold. So everything was more difficult.

You know, play groups in the park, Bible studies cannot meet at church. Everything has to be offsite. You’re running church out of a van.

You know, if the van has a flat battery, then it’s all over.”

“But decisions like that to purchase a van and then resell it. Again, church plants make those all the time in terms of, you know, how can you easily store all your equipment but also move all your equipment because you need those uses?

And so different depending on where you are. Like I spoke to somebody who’d done a building project and they were able to have a big container on site and they had lots of land. So, you know, our inner city situation brought challenges and, you know, benefits that maybe other churches won’t have.

But, yeah, it’s great to be on the other side of it. And people now, they walk into this building, you know, it’s bright, it’s clear. You can see where people are.

You can have multiple groups at the same time. It’s fit for purpose. It’s an excellent space for ministry.

And that’s what we wanted to have. So I’m very happy with it in the end.”

“Before I ask the final question, which is, you know, if you could do it all again, what would you change? Just an insight as a team member on the ministry staff team. So not, you know, director of ministry operations.

You’re not just managing the building, but you’re also running a significant area of ministry in church life as well. The stress on the team in this whole sort of process. What did you learn?

I guess what did you learn about, you know, being a good team member? What did you learn about just being like the expectations that you should have as a ministry team member for when you are building a building project?

Yes. I think one thing is balancing the needs of the project as a whole and the ministry area. So kids is an obvious example where we really needed buy-in and to run everything by our kids minister and for them to have significant buy-in over what the end product was.”

“But there also is an element where what they want might not happen because of money, space, overall design, there’s a bunch of different things. So I think building projects are really about knowing the level of consultation that you need to have with different people and how to manage things if you can’t please everybody and you can’t have everything in your project. So there were cases for us where we would have loved to have done things differently, but we were constrained by heritage.

And so we couldn’t have six breakout rooms for kids or you’re kind of limited in what you can do. And then I think I felt extremely invested in the project, but it was good for me to realise that other people are still, they’re trying to run playgroup out of a park. They’re trying to find spaces for all their community groups to meet.”

“And so for me to be able to meet them in that stress and help problem solve, you know, the MAG team, like the AV team, very difficult for them. And so being able to support them as much as possible was really important.

So what I’m hearing is it causes increased stress, the need for communication, but also really helpful to hear one of Toby’s key jobs was to cast this sort of gospel vision, which means we’re happy to suffer, you know, deal with pain for a short while. What about just the uncertainty that it brings? So again, church planners know this, you know, sometimes they get kicked out of space with short term notice.

And in many ways, COVID with all those changes should have prepared us for this. But just dealing with different people who have different abilities to manage change.”

“Yeah, so I think some people on our team needed a lot of help in doing that. So one of my main things was managing our relationship with this design school. And I would say to the staff, like, we don’t have a backup.

This is it. So if they come to us next week and say it’s not working, I’m going to need to take out… Yeah, there’s no Plan B.

Whereas that’s probably different for people that are able to maybe meet in a local Anglican school or something. But we tried to have things like checklists and as many layers of team leaders and management as we could to kind of help with that problem solving. But it is a very difficult thing to manage, particularly for us, you know, managing different levels of congregation anxiety.

So how do you manage a family’s experience of church where the kids’ ministry spaces aren’t as good? Or, you know, we had one lift and everybody who didn’t have a pram had to walk up 10 flights of stairs.”

“No, it was only seven.

No, no, no, it was 10. It was five floors, Scott Sanders.

Was it?

And so we had inspirational signs at every top of the stairs.

Only three levels to go.

Exactly. But you’ve got to manage things not being ideal for people, but also help them to see that it’s a temporary thing and that it’s worth it. But now that we’re back, you know, I think people would laugh about the 10 flights of stairs.

There’s no bitterness about it because it was completely worth it.”

“None whatsoever. If you could then do it all again, what would you change? What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of getting into a church building project?

I think we overall are very happy with how it went. So it’s not that it was perfect, but I think a lot of the challenges that we faced were external things. So COVID meant that some of our staff had to move out of Sydney.

The external things which we couldn’t. I had a baby in the middle of the project. Things which come up which are external to the actual project.

I think we were really happy with how we engaged people. We normally had about 90 giving units at Vine Church. Actually the most encouraging thing for us was for the project, about 130 people or families, couples gave.”

“We would have people coming in for the first week and giving towards the project because they were so excited by it. I think on that level, really happy with how it went. If you’re listening to this and you’re thinking of doing a building project, I would love to talk to you and love to share all the fundraising, what we did.

And then I think the main thing is just I underestimated the amount of resources and work that it would take and the time. So they tell you, ought to be done in nine months. So just double that, 18 months.

There’s no nine months, it’s not happening.

And it will cost this much?

Double that, no, don’t double it. But I think being conservative about what’s the actual impact, what’s the cost. And once the building opens, it’s not actually done.”

“So you’ve really got a year or two after the building opens where there’s still a significant amount of work.

So Kate, what’s the one thing you’ve learned about building projects?

I think it’s that buildings are crucial for your mission.

Beautiful. Well, we’re going to open up the toolbox. We’ve got a previous episode where you get to hear from Andrew Robson, who has done a number of building projects with St Paul’s Carlingford and EV Church.

So there will be a link in the show notes to that. Kate has generously agreed to share a bunch of materials, not only in the sort of building campaign to raise funds for the building, but also her kind of debrief notes, her checklist of do this and don’t do this that she’s willing to share as well. And we’ve also developed a resource on the fundraising side of things.”

“So ChurchStarter is a resource, but we have a whole bunch of tools associated with that. So reach out to me, scott, at and we can help you think into raising funds for a building. If you have a topic that you’d like us to cover, please email us at resources at

We love getting your questions and that’s what this whole episode was kind of prompted from. So send your questions in so that we can actually build this podcast with you, our listeners, and actually keep hopefully serving the local church with one Practical Gospel Centre Ministry Tip every week. I’m Scott Sanders.

I’m Kate Stace.

Chat soon.”