Cost of prevention often minor compared to cost of repair in churches

Cost of prevention often minor compared to cost of repair in churches

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

The Alabama Baptist

David Whitworth has a reputation around the campus of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham.

“They call me Ebenezer Scrooge,” said Whitworth, Dawson’s director of facilities, who says saving money is one of his goals as he oversees repairs, replacements and renovations at the church.

Taking care of church buildings and grounds is a year-round job. Like any home or building, church facilities have mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems that need regular upkeep and maintenance. They also have rooms to clean, grass to trim and walls to paint — routine tasks that if left undone can create a poor impression of the church to visitors and members alike.

“My role boils down to ensuring that everyone who comes to church has a comfortable place to learn about God,” Whitworth said. “I just don’t believe in wasting God’s money.”

The cost of prevention is often minor compared to the cost of repairing a major system, according to GuideStone Property and Casualty. Proper maintenance may require spending money in the short-term, but the long-term savings often mean more money is available for ministry needs.

Walking a fine line

Jay Moore, business administrator at Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile, in Mobile Baptist Association, says the church walks a fine line in spending money on preventive maintenance but he believes it is money well spent.

“A church can spend a large part of its budget on preventive maintenance, but at the same time, not doing that could result in having to spend thousands of dollars to replace a system,” Moore said.

The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) is a good example. The HVAC system for a large building can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you check out our hvac services, the benefits are many. But the cost to run the system also is a major utility expense. Regular maintenance like changing filters, checking belts and lubricating moving parts helps the system run more efficiently, which improves indoor air quality, saves money on monthly utility bills and keeps the system in good working order.

Having a filter-changing schedule and a person responsible for following that schedule is one of the easiest ways a church of any size can maintain an HVAC system, Whitworth said.

For churches that have them, the septic system is another hidden and expensive necessity that people take for granted until it stops working.

Consistent servicing can avoid a Sunday morning emergency, says Joey Sprayberry, owner of JDS Septic and Services in Heflin.

“Regular pumping of the septic tank and inspection of sewer lines can keep a system in good working order for many years and avoid major problems for your facilities,” Sprayberry said.

The frequency of pumping depends on several factors, including use and age of the system.

In a church with a smaller congregation that occupies the building only a couple of days a week, the state-recommended schedule of 3–5 years is probably a good guideline, Sprayberry said. A church with 200–300 worshippers on Sunday that has a lot of activities during the week should schedule service more often.

The best measure of how often a new system should be pumped is to have it done once a year for a couple of years and then determine if the service period can be extended, Sprayberry said. Older systems may need more frequent pumping, replacement of field lines or replacement of the entire system.

“Just like a car or roof, a septic system is going to wear out,” Sprayberry said. “There’s only so much the soil around a septic system can absorb. But with preventive maintenance, the system can work efficiently for many years.”

Warning signs such as gurgling toilets and slow draining in sinks should not be ignored, since those are signs a problem may be imminent, and repairing the problem is usually more costly than preventing it, he said. Regardless of membership and size, any church can stay on top of things like loose carpet and roof leaks, Moore said.

From pews to kitchen appliances, repairing minor damage immediately can extend the life of the equipment and prevent major expenses later.

The best way to do that is to keep a record of all equipment that includes the purchase date, the recommended maintenance schedule for each item (including part sizes and filter numbers) and a person responsible for routine upkeep.

Moore suggests utilizing volunteers for tasks they can handle.

“We give new members the opportunity to share if they have any specialized skills they might employ around the church. For example we have volunteers who cut the grass and maintain the grounds. They enjoy the work, and their help saves us several thousand dollars a year,” he said.

Preventive measures

Keeping church facilities in top working condition is often a product of reactive maintenance — especially in tight budget years, according to GuideStone Financial Resources. However, preventive maintenance has been proven to save money.

“Every dollar saved on maintenance is a dollar that can have direct ministry value,” according to GuideStone.

Ultimately maintenance of church facilities is a stewardship issue, Whitworth said.

“At the end of the day, you’re taking care of the Lord’s house, trying to take care of what the Lord’s given us. It’s stewardship of His house,” he said.

Sample preventive maintenance schedule

Studies show that even when facilities are properly maintained, they deteriorate by approximately 1–2 percent per year. In the absence of preventive maintenance, the rate of deterioration doubles, increasing to about 4 percent per year.

The solution?

Develop a mindset of prevention, according to GuideStone Property and Casualty. Follow the recommended maintenance schedule for your equipment and major systems and then budget so funds are available to repair small problems before they turn into big ones.

This schedule from GuideStone Financial Resources provides a general guideline for maintenance/inspection frequencies for equipment often found in church facilities.

Note: These guidelines are for informational purposes only. Please follow recommended manufacturer’s recommendations for the maintenance and upkeep of your church’s property. 


Review building codes and safety regulations — Annually

Fire code inspection — Annually

Fire alarm system — NFPA 72 recommended testing intervals or AHJ (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) recommendations

Fire extinguishers Inspect — Monthly, maintain annually

Kitchen ranges, ovens and vent hoods — Semi-annually (NFPA 17A recommendations)

HVAC system inspection and change filters — Quarterly

Boiler — Annually or bi-annually, depending on the type of system

Water heaters: inspect, drain and de-scale — Annually

Inspect pipes — Annually, before winter months

Protect exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping — Before winter months

Storm drains — Semi-annually

Lawn sprinklers — Weekly

Inspect roof, flashings, caulking and sealants for leaks or cracks — Semi-annually

Exterior condition of building — Quarterly

Rain gutters — Quarterly

Inspect wiring — Every two years for new installations, annually for installations more than five years old

Sound and projection systems review and maintenance — Monthly

Office computers — System recommendations

Instrument tuning and repair — Semi-annually or contract recommendations

Suggested weekly monitoring of property for general repairs: 

• Windows and doors — weather stripping, thresholds, hinges, door closers and locks

• Balcony and stairwells — loose fastenings

• Sidewalks and parking lot — cracks and potholes