How To Guides

Master Plan Process

March 07, 2007

View the Image Slideshow for Master Plan Process (Opens a new window).

See image slideshow for photos credits and other information.


The first step in the design of any religious project should be the creation of a Master Plan.  It is a valuable first step regardless of project size or type.  When completed, a Master Plan articulates the Parish’s vision of its long-term goals for growth with new or renovated facilities.  It is essential that the Master Plan facilitates broad based consensus building and support of the congregation.  The Master Plan should provide a phase-able strategy for implementation of Plan components over time.  The quality of the Master Plan is inherently linked to the quality of the Process.

What makes for a successful Master Plan Process? A successful Master Plan evolves from a collaborative effort between Parish Committee and Architect.  The Process should be set up to build a team atmosphere, integrating the Parish Committee as an equal partner in the Process.  This first design phase is most often successful when Parish Committee and Architect develop a close working relationship built on clear and open communication.  It is extremely important that the Committee feels, at all times, that they are being heard, so that the design is responsive to their stated needs.  This working relationship paves the way for thoughtful and informed decision making.   Committee and Architect typically meet once a month over five to six months, concluding with the Architect’s presentation of the Master Plan to the Parish and possibly the Diocese.  The Process often includes a Liturgical Design Consultant. How should the Master Plan Process be set up? The Master Plan Process should consist of three basic areas:

  • Needs Analysis and Programming
  • Conceptual Design Options
  • Preparation of the Master Plan

Needs Analysis and Programming begins with gathering information and concludes with a statement of the Parish’s goals and program.   At the outset, the Parish provides the Architect with relevant information, surveys and existing drawings in the case of a renovation.

No two parishes are alike.  The Architect should strive to discover the unique qualities of the Parish’s history, personality and its land.  The Architect should conduct interviews with the key participants from the Parish including the Pastor, Ministry Directors and other key Parish members ranging from young families to the elders.  This provides an opportunity for the Architect to listen to the functional needs, goals and desires from a diverse group and begin to see the project through their eyes.  Likewise, it provides an opportunity for these Parishioners to be included in the Process and dream about the future: “What if…”.  The Architect translates this information into a Building Program listing functional needs and quantified space requirements.  The Program should also address the Parish’s aspirations for the role of the project in the larger community.  At the end of this first third of the Master Plan Process a project’s unique challenges and opportunities are identified.

The Conceptual Design Options portion of the Process provides the Committee with clear design alternatives for solving the stated space needs and goals.  The Architect assists the Committee in evaluating the design options based on how well they satisfy the stated program needs and objectives.  Experience has shown that the most successful design options address a broad range of ministry needs.  Phasing strategies should be evaluated and a preliminary total project budget should be prepared.  The Conceptual Design Options portion concludes with the selection of one option for refinement and development of the Master Plan.  It is essential that all members of the Committee feel a sense of ownership in the selected conceptual scheme.
ion of the Master Plan includes refinement of the selected conceptual design option to the committee’s comments.  Master Plan products are prepared including conceptual site and floor plans, 3-D drawings or models, phasing plan and a total project budget for the proposed initial phase. These design graphics provide excellent fundraising tools.  The Master Plan phase concludes with a presentation of the Plan to the congregation.  With congregational support the Parish is ready to commence a capital fund-raising campaign.

The Master Plan Process provides an incredible  opportunity for all involved.  It is often a once in a generation chance to participate in the creation of a long-term vision.  When complete, the Master Plan provides a road map that articulates the Parish’s needs and aspirations to strengthen the Parish as a faith community for generations to come.  It should be a malleable document that allows for adjustment to changing needs for future phases.  A Process based on a close working relationship with clear and open communications will most likely lead to a successful Master Plan and a satisfied client.

Sean Reilly, AIA, LEED® AP is a Principal with Kerns Group Architects,Arlington, VA.  Sean specializes in the planning and design of religious facilities.


Church of the Pilgrims -- The Story of a New, Old Sanctuary
Polished Concrete Flooring in Sacred Spaces

[Return to top]