By Mike Schueler
Out of space and out of time, Sunnylane Church needed a loan to grow. But the promise of an ultra-low interest rate turned into a financing nightmare for this Oklahoma City congregation.
Drew Sanford was frustrated. He’d already wasted too much time working to secure a loan for Sunnylane Church, the Southern Baptist congregation where he served as student and administrative pastor. A California-based credit union had wooed Sanford with an ultra-low interest rate, but after nearly four months of negotiations, the relationship had yielded little more than a mountain of paperwork.
Sanford says he felt like he was getting nowhere, and the church didn’t have time to lose.
Nestled in a suburb of Oklahoma City, Sunnylane was growing. Attendance on an average Sunday morning regularly topped 300, and though the church’s sanctuary hadn’t yet reached capacity, education space was at a premium. Adult Sunday School classes — which Sunnylane brands “Connect Groups” — were completely out of room, forcing some classes to meet in odd, improvised spaces like hallways or the foyer outside the church’s sanctuary.
Danny Gandara, Sunnylane’s senior pastor, says it’s a good problem to have, but one that needed to be addressed quickly to facilitate future growth.
“The heartbeat of Sunnylane is advancing the Gospel throughout our community. We want to focus outward, not inward,” Gandara explains. “As our Connect Groups grow, we want them to birth new groups. But finding the space to accommodate these groups has been one of our biggest challenges.”
As Gandara and Sanford searched for a solution in the summer of 2021, they quickly ruled out new construction — costs were simply too high. That’s when they turned their attention to an existing church building adjacent to Sunnylane’s property. The church had disbanded, and the building was no longer in use. It needed significant renovation but would be cheaper than new construction and would provide Sunnylane with plenty of growing room. Total estimated cost for the project, including the property purchase, was about $500,000.
With a plan in place, Gandara and Sanford turned their attention to financing. They reached out to WatersEdge Ministry Services, which had provided the loan that funded construction of Sunnylane’s sanctuary 12 years earlier. WatersEdge offered a competitive interest rate for the new project, but Gandara and Sanford wanted to ensure they were being good stewards of the church’s resources, so they also shopped the loan with several banks. That’s when a credit union made an offer they couldn’t ignore: 3.25% — nearly a full percent less than any other quote they’d received, including from WatersEdge. The rate represented an overall savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We did the math, and it was [something] like $64,000 a year that we would save on our payments just from that 1-percent difference,” Sanford says. “That’s huge, especially to a ministry like ours where every extra penny goes to missions or something that spreads the Gospel.”
The 3.25% rate almost seemed too good to be true — and it was
As Sunnylane began the loan process, the credit union asked for extensive documentation, including items like an appraisal, inspections, compliance certificates and audited financial statements — all paid for at the church’s expense. Sanford says the credit union even asked for “nitpicky stuff” like additional signatures on the church’s bylaws. Each time Sanford supplied the requested information, he adds, the credit union would ask for something else. Weeks would go by between each request, and the process soon passed the two-month mark, then three.
“Every step took forever,” Sanford says.
The ultra-low interest rate the credit union offered began to climb, too. It jumped to 3.4%, then 3.65%, and then 3.85%. That was the breaking point. Now a full half-percent above the credit union’s original 3.25% offer, Gandara and Sanford reached back out to WatersEdge.
Gandara shared his frustration with WatersEdge Chief Lending Officer Jerry Vaughan, who offered a rate that could compete with the credit union. What’s more, Vaughan promised to close on Sunnylane’s loan in less than a month.
“They sent me to the website to fill out the loan application, which took maybe 30 minutes,” Sanford remembers. “They asked for budget to revenue numbers for last year, and that was it.”
Vaughan closed Sunnylane’s loan three weeks later, as promised, with an added bonus. In addition to the $500,000 needed to purchase and renovate Sunnylane’s new educational space, WatersEdge was able to refinance the church’s existing sanctuary loan, lowering the interest rate by 1.4% — a drop that will save $1,069 per month, or $256,000 over the life of the loan.
Renewing and redeeming
Completed in April — with a grand opening in May — Sunnylane is now enjoying its new, 2-acre property dubbed the “Ministry Center.” Sunnylane’s student ministry now occupies the 6,000-square-foot building, which frees up additional space for the children’s ministry as well as provides seven new Connect Group classrooms.
“We’re calling it the Ministry Center because we want to use it to minister to our community,” Gandara says. “It’s focused around Sunnylane’s vision of reaching and teaching and ministering for the purpose of souls being saved and lives being changed for the glory of God.”
Sanford is especially excited about the Ministry Center’s kitchen, a feature missing from Sunnylane’s original building.
“One of the big ministries we have is feeding the local high school football team every Friday night during the season,” he explains. “But we don’t only feed them physically, we feed them spiritually — we put the Gospel right in front of these students. That’s what this new Ministry Center is all about: reaching people outside the walls of the church.
“The Bible says to be good stewards,” Sanford adds. “WatersEdge helped us do that. They gave us a really good rate, streamlined the paperwork, and made it easy.”
Mike Schueler is Vice President of Marketing and Communications at WatersEdge Ministry Services in Oklahoma City, Okla. Schueler serves as editor-in-chief of Generosity magazine.