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Dirt’s flying, but pledges are down. What can we do?

The Case Statement: ‘Our pledges aren’t being met.’

By Rick Campbell

The pastor of “Hometown” Community Church noted in a casual way one Sunday that the pledges for the new worship center and classroom buildings were coming in only at a 50 percent rate.

The church had already broken ground for the new buildings, construction fences had gone up and dirt was being moved on the site. The church of about 2,500 adults and children is 12 years old and the pastor has been there three years. The current facility is a permanent one but the church is growing fast and now has five contemporary services over two days.

Eight months ago the church had a mini-campaign, done without professional fundraising help, mostly to new people in the congregation. The leaders were encouraged enough to proceed with the construction, but just at the time the country was entering a recession. The vision has been shared over the months for the use of the new facilities. But the leadership has had to downsize the plans to bring the building more in line to contributions. What steps can this church, and others like it, take to save the project?

Church Executive asked Rick Campbell, President/CEO of INJOY Stewardship Services, Duluth, GA, to suggest a response to this church’s situation.  — Editor

The Case Solution: Implement best practices to reset the campaign

In the case story provided, it is important to note several pertinent items are undefined. Specifically, is the church in the middle of a full capital campaign and the mini-campaign was to simply engage new people who have not been assimilated? If so, how deep into the full campaign are they? There would be several more. However, taking the information and the campaign experience at face value, I would advise the church to take specific, clear, strategic action items.

In the interest of authentic and effective leadership, recognize that without taking proactive steps of change, the project as designed will not come to fruition. The church leadership must agree to the need for employing ministry best practices.

1. Building Foundation — we must connect with everyone who considers this their church home.

2. Effective Communication — we must tell the story in a manner that is compelling and clearly connects the people to the opportunity for ministry impact and life-change.

3. Strong Vision [Future Picture] — we must link the project (which is not the future picture) to the Future Picture, and ensure that the people of the church see themselves in the picture of the future.

4. Strong Values — we must communicate clearly those elements of ministry and life about which we care deeply and help the church understand that the fulfillment of this project contributes to that end.

5. Purposeful Measurement — we must be willing to honestly assess at all times how we are doing and be willing to adjust course as needed to see God’s intended purposes for this church become reality, regardless of how we may be viewed by others.

As part of the implementation of best practices, the church should engage in a stewardship partnering relationship that can assist with wide-ranging stewardship issues and lean into their counsel regarding the current situation. A church in this environment will typically raise 1x their annual operating budget (est. $3 million) if conducting a campaign internally. The same church when utilizing a partner will raise 2-3x their annual budget (est. $6-9 million). There are many reasons for this:

My experience in the context of partnership would advise this: Agree to an early close-out of the current campaign — six months from now. This will allow the church to deliver a bring-it-home-strategy while also delivering a simultaneous launch into the next campaign effort. This is done through the development of a strategic timeline that allows specific and targeted communications to those currently participating at various levels while you springboard with maximum effort into the following commitment period. For this to take place, the following is needed:

Communicate the close-out plan effectively. The elements of which are:

Here is what we are doing — “We are ending this campaign early.”

Here is when we are doing it — “We are identifying an end date of the current mini-campaign.”

Here is why we are doing it — “The current pace of giving will not get us to where we need to be on a project that is mission-critical to seeing God’s purposes achieved in this church.”

Special communiqué to those who did partner in this campaign — “We want to thank you and express our     appreciation for your commitment and generosity.” I would consider a special dessert event to communicate face-to-face with this group.

Enlist the remainder of the church family to give during the “close-out” season. As part of this process, the leadership needs to set reasonable goals for the remaining six months.

You then link these specific goals to project attainment. For example, “Hitting this mark [$ ] will allow us to accomplish for the project and move us into a position of strength as we tackle the next phase.”

Faithfulness of the people

A concern was made about the faithfulness of the people or a lack thereof. Americans are the most generous people on Earth. However, in today’s economic uncertainty, the response level to “nice” projects is low. “It would be nice to have a Family Life Center or it would be nice to pay off the debt” will not drive people to sacrifice, but “vital” projects will.

Statements such as “Let me tell you what keeps me awake at night” or “For our church to become everything God wants us to be, it is vital that we expand our facilities” or “If not now, when, if not us, then who” communicates the passion needed to position people to do something significant for God. Whether a church is staff-led, committee driven, or has some other decision structure, the ability of the leadership to communicate the compelling nature of the project and why we must participate is critical for success.

When projects are identified as critical particularly in fast-growing environments, new and more creative thinking strategies are needed to ensure maximum participation in multiple campaign situations. The first is an environmental assessment. There are several ministry dynamics that are identified and processed in the assessment.

What is unique about our culture? What specific financial issues do our people face today and what opportunities are ours to extend ministry to them? What are the unique elements that comprise our ministry/relational DNA? What are the 10 to 12 unique key descriptors of our Future Picture [vision]? How would we best express our values? What are our historical mileposts over 12 years and what have we learned through the process, including previous campaigns?

Are we serious?

Regarding ownership, are we willing to relinquish tightly held reins in order to maximize the release of pertinent information to the church family in order to see a transfer of ownership occur; i.e., are we serious about bringing the church fully on board to the extent that they take ownership of the results? How does this project factor into others that have come before? Others that are on the drawing board? Does the church know about future projects? Are we committed to communicating the full “master plan?”

Fast growing churches generally have a strong contingent of young families. A typical young family profile is a couple who has a mortgage note that stretches them, two car payments, and credit card debt. Many times, an influx of this demographic will create an environment where the ministry need can outpace the ministry resources. As part of the church’s unique DNA and to position these families to take ownership of the Future Picture, providing elements of stewardship, apart from capital, can now be implemented to minister as well as prepare the entire church.

John Maxwell has often said “You can’t leapfrog leaders.” This is especially true during a capital campaign. A Leadership Briefing will be needed. As part of this process, the church’s ministry, positional, and financial leaders are gathered for full briefing on the campaign close-out while making them insiders on other stewardship offerings as well as the future campaign. Of those invited, the top leaders will be enlisted to lead the new and full campaign.

Finally, the momentum and growing attendance patterns in this church would give me tremendous optimism for its future. However, I would position its weekly communications differently. Our experience shows that gratitude + application multiplied by volunteerism over time is greater than our economy challenges. Let me explain.

1. For many, it is a tremendous sacrifice to provide financial support on a regular basis. Tell the people as much as possible “thank you!”

2. In addition to the expression of gratitude, communicate how their generosity is improving the quality of human life in their community and globally. For example, “Because of your generosity, this week we were able to buy 75 computers for the community learning center which will help inner-city children develop the skills needed to effectively complete homework assignments this year.” This allows church members to give through your church, not to your church.

3. Develop a strong volunteer base. Stewardship is a sequential discipline. People will not give sacrificially of their treasure until they first give sacrificially of their time and talent. Volunteers develop ownership and learn the spiritual discipline of sacrifice by having “skin in the game.”

4. This must be done over time — week in and week out.

5. If you do this, you would have created a culture of generosity that will sustain you through economic downturns.

This is hard work and must be conducted strategically. You cannot preach through a campaign, you must lead through it.

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