Without a strong skeleton, our bodies could not stand up straight. The same can be said of any church building.

We’ve come across a lot of interesting church design options over the years. In this post, we want to begin another series—sort of a two-part sub-series from our ongoing posts about how you can save money on your church building—that focuses specifically on various structural options available for one’s church design.

First, we need to explain that we’re just talking about the skeleton or shell of a church building here. When you hear claims that pre-engineered structures can save you incredible amounts of money, they are probably only including the costs for finishing the shell of the structure (typically with inexpensive or simple materials).

Right now, we’re not talking about the costs to finish the interior of the shell; that’s a separate discussion.

The Pole Barn Option for Your Church Building

Pole barns go way back in American culture; you might have even seen shows about barn raisings on television. Those often relied on the same structural design we’re discussing here.

Pole barns, also called “post frame” buildings, do save money up front. The reasons include lower cost of materials and the fact that no foundation is required. Instead, holes are drilled into the ground and poles are placed in those holes. Pole barns usually have very thin metal skins for the siding and roof—28- or 29-gauge metal, which can be cut with a sharp utility knife.

The pole barn option works for a church building with less than a 60-foot span, or width, in the design. Because there is no foundation, pole barns are not good for use in areas that freeze frequently in the winter, as the floor can heave and crack without protection from a foundation.

There are also limits to the amount of wood construction that can be done inside a pole barn structure. For these reasons, conventional framing (with wooden two-by-fours and trusses) is considered just about as cost-effective as a pole barn design—which, as its name suggests, is meant for a barn, not a church building, anyway.

The Pre-Engineered Steel Option for Your Church Design

Many people think that pre-engineered metal structures will work well for church buildings, and that certainly can be true.

However, typically the proposed structure would need to be at least 5,000 square feet before the premium cost of the steel would make it cost-effective compared to traditional wood framing. Steel is also more economical if you’re keeping the shape of your church design very simple (for example, a rectangular worship space).

In fact, steel framing excels at creating worship spaces with between 60- and 100-foot clear spans—with no need for intermediate support columns that may block sight lines—that can seat from 500 to as many as 1,500 people. Steel is also strong enough to support thicker metal skins: 22- or 24-gauge metal that cannot be cut with a utility knife.

More Structural Options, More Ways to Save

In our next post, we will compare and contrast two more skeleton options for your church building: fabric and precast concrete. All this information comes from one of our prior free i3 webinars—we suggest you keep an eye out for our 2018 webinar series, which will be posted soon.