Funding the vision — even in a struggling economy

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

Essentials for running a successful capital campaign, regardless of the economic climate.

When it comes to raising substantial funds for ministry expansion, church leaders and stewardship specialists agree: Vision is king.

People give toward a vision that they can understand and embrace, according to Paul Clark, pastor of ministry environments at Fairhaven Church in Centerville, OH. Clark helps lead a three-year, $10-million fundraising initiative driven by a vision plan that includes building a preschool wing, buying medical equipment for a hospital in West Africa, and launching more multisites.

“We did much study and research on the fundraising potential of our congregation and the metrics that would be needed to arrive at $10 million,” shares Clark. “We believed it would be attainable, with God’s help.”
But, what if the economy’s in bad shape or the timing isn’t right?

“Good vision trumps bad economies”
“Timing is certainly important, but what’s more important is having a clear and compelling vision,” declares Mark Brooks, president of The Charis Group, a stewardship consulting firm based in Suwanee, GA. “Good vision trumps bad economies,” says Brooks. “If your vision doesn’t connect with your congregation, no season will be right.  If it’s compelling and connects with the hearts of your donors, there’s almost no season that’s wrong.”

While there’s a tendency for organizations to put off projects during tough times because of the assumption they couldn’t raise funds, Brooks says it hasn’t been the case for his church clients. “Churches can and did raise funds during the past recession,” he claims.

One of Brooks’ clients, Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL — which has had three capital campaigns in the past 15 years — launched a major campaign at the height of the recession in 2008. The dollar goal was $2.5 million.

“We came in with pledges equal to $2.3 million, and at the end of three years, we had brought in more than 97.5 percent of the pledges,” says Christ Church executive director Alan Prass. Considering the economic situation at the time, and the fact that the congregation was much smaller back then, Prass says the 2008-2011 capital funding with The Charis Group was the “most successful” the church has seen in total and percentage giving.
Blair Commons, operations manager at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Lecanto, FL, echoes a similar experience. Commons has led four of the eight back-to-back capital campaigns Seven Rivers has held in the past 20 years.

During the 2008 economic meltdown, Seven Rivers embarked on a funding project that raised in excess of $2.5 million. “The economy did affect it,” Commons admits. “But, when the economy is bad, that’s when we need to talk about money and where we really put our trust.”

Early this year, Seven Rivers launched a new three-year capital campaign amid yet another economic uncertainty — and, as the leadership sees, an opportunity to demonstrate trust in God.

Florida’s Crystal River nuclear plant — the main employer in the county where Seven Rivers is located — had shut down, affecting as many as 600 families in the community. Understandably, some people questioned whether the timing to raise $3.5 million (the highest of three goals) was right.

Nevertheless, with a united leadership, the church moved ahead with the project.

“The kingdom of God isn’t built on the power company’s schedule,” says Commons. “God is still in control.”

With the help of Brentwood, TN-based Impact Stewardship Resources, Commons says $3.6 million had been pledged to the campaign. And when the campaign ends in March 2016, Common predicts Seven Rivers will launch another one.

“There are a lot of things that always need to be built — if a church is alive,” he says.

The value of capital campaigns
Large churches recognize the value of a capital stewardship campaign because they engage in projects that require substantial financing, says Chuck Klein, president of Impact Stewardship Resources. These churches have expansive ministries, large overhead, numerous staff and strong mission components — all funded from their general budget. Thus, a capital campaign can relieve pressure from a church’s budget and free up dollars that can be used to support its core missions and ministries, explains Klein.

But, for many churches, a compelling reason for raising capital funds is to reduce or eliminate outstanding debts so they can move forward with their expansion plans. “Banks have been reluctant to loan for new projects without debt being reduced,” he points out.

Joe Sangl, president and CEO of Injoy Stewardship Solutions, based in Anderson, SC, discloses that nearly 80 percent of the church capital campaigns Injoy leads have a “debt retirement” component. But, as the economy continues to improve, Sangl says he expects to see increased activity among large and small churches relating to major capital initiatives, with a focus on building family life centers and  >>
launching campuses. “Optimism among leaders we’re speaking with is the highest since pre-2008,” he says.

One example is Believers Church in Chesapeake, VA. The 1,100-member congregation launched a two-year capital campaign in fall 2012 as a step toward relocation. Overall, there’s excitement among church members “because everyone can see that this is a real need that we have,” declares senior pastor Jamey Stuart.

“Our current facilities don’t meet our needs anymore,” Stuart says. He adds that “doing satellites” is the next phase for the church; right now, however, it’s important to get the church ready to relocate and “build a bigger base.”

But, while most churches have concrete, detailed campaign plans that they present to their supporters, Believers Church has only an “idea” — to create a better ministry space for the community.


“We just knew we couldn’t accomplish what we wanted to do where we are,” says Stuart. “We don’t have drawings of what our building is going to look like; we had a specific goal, but how it’s going to be accomplished is pretty wide open.”

Believers Church didn’t even have a dollar goal more specific than “as much as possible” — until Injoy Stewardship stepped in and proposed three targets: $800,000, $1.2 million and $1.7 million. “We did get the $1.7 million commitment,” Stuart points out.

Should your church hire a specialist?

Believers Church has had only two capital campaigns since its i

nception in 1978. “It’s a pretty monumental task for any local church,” Stuart says of raising major funds — and that’s why to him it’s important to engage the expertise of stewardship consultants.

For Believers Church, Injoy has been the consultant of choice for both campaigns. Stuart says that’s because of Injoy’s thorough follow-up process and the “trust relationship” between his church and Injoy’s Joe Sangl. “We’re familiar with Joe; we didn’t even look for anything else,” says Stuart.

Similarly, Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, MS, has worked with only one consultant — Impact Stewardship — since 2003. Richard Collum, associate pastor of finance and administration, says Impact Stewardship has a strategy for engaging church members who have a capacity for giving large gifts, which — according to an analysis of Morrison Heights’ first three campaigns — was the church’s primary weakness.

Collum says his church’s most successful fundraising experience with Impact Stewardship was the May 2006 capital campaign, which resulted in pledges totaling $8.2 million, funding construction of a 20,000-square-foo

t youth and college ministry building.

It’s the proven ability of outside consultants to raise larger amounts of money that makes them valuable to the majority of churches planning a capital campaign, claims Chuck Klein, president of Impact Stewardship.

“Numerous examples exist of churches that decided ‘we can do this on our own’ and raised 1x; whereas use of a specialist would have likely doubled it,” says Klein. “Spending a consulting fee on the magnitude of $20,000 to $50,000 to raise an additional campaign total upwards of $1 million is a wise decision.”

It all boils down to “experience,” according to Jim Sheppard, CEO and principal of Generis in Atlanta. “We do this [stewardship] all the time, and it’s the only thing we do.” In addition, Sheppard says campaign specialists provide an objective voice — to ask the hard questions and challenge the church leadership on key issues that might affect the outcome of a giving initiative.

But, for Fairhaven Church, going it alone makes more sense to its leadership — at least at this time. Instead of hiring a capital campaign company, Clark says the church “followed a similar template for this current campaign.” He estimates the church saved $100,000.

Still, Fairhaven is going to pay a personal coach who will help its lead pastor craft and cast the vision.

In the end, Clark says, regardless of the economy (or whether a campaign consultant is involved), churches need to respond to opportunities to grow, launch satellite churches, plant churches, and impact the world for Christ.  “So, I think a capital campaign is always relevant, no matter what the context might look like.”


Big Mo* is back! The Revival of Capital Campaigns

By Paul Gage

Today, more churches are thriving and growing, and are passionate about impacting their communities for Christ. Church planting and compassion ministries are on fire, displaying God’s glory and goodness to the world. Churches are more optimistic about their futures and are demonstrating renewed vision for growth and expansion. The need for new worship facilities, children’s buildings and multisite expansions are coming online at an accelerated pace.

To illustrate, our firm has consulted with four churches in Southern California this year. All are experiencing record capital campaigns, with more than $50 million committed, collectively, for new building projects.
These are the kinds of campaigns that have been in a holding pattern the last five years. This renewed momentum is beginning to surface everywhere, and it’s refreshing to see.

But, what about the economy?
There is no doubt the recession has troubled thousands of churches and local communities. However, during this time of financial adversity, churches have been praying, taking inventory and diligently retiring debts.

Everywhere, churches are more receptive to teaching generosity and biblical stewardship to increase budget giving. Introducing programs such as Financial Peace University, The Blessed Life and Financial Freedom classes, and using technology to attract new donors, are at an all-time high.

This challenge to raise money for God’s work is a constant reality. Therefore, raising additional funds for future building projects can be an overwhelming decision for church leaders. Churches are seeking the best options to raise funds, and the overwhelming majority has concluded that a capital campaign is the most effective approach to reach their spiritual and financial goals. For the last 50 years, God has blessed thousands of churches, raising billions of dollars for ministry, building programs and Kingdom purposes.

Churches considering a campaign often ask two key questions: What are the next steps? and When is the best time to initiate a capital campaign?

In my 20 years of experience, I’ve noticed the churches that are strategically positioned for success have properly aligned three essentials.

1) PURPOSE — Having a clear purpose and vision is a
crucial first step. It allows your church to properly address the “what” and “why” for its future financial challenge.

Most churches that have defined their purpose (such as a new worship facility, a multisite campus, or debt reduction) are better positioned to communicate a compelling vision for growth and expansion. This process will continue to provide more information about the project cost, timing for construction, and the future impact to transform lives and communities for Christ.

Defining your purpose and project about three months to a year before a capital campaign is key to success. Your church will be more confident and engaged leading up to the capital campaign.

2) PREPARTION — We often hear that “timing is everything.” The most important factor must be God’s timing for your church. The planning and preparation phase for a capital campaign is about three to six months before the public phase of the campaign is officially launched. Most of the preparation work is done behind the scenes, with church staff and lay leaders.

I often suggest conducting a study to identify a four- to six-week window when the church is experiencing maximum attendance, the giving is healthy, and the presence of God is alive. This is the sweet spot we look for to execute the four-week public phase of a capital campaign.

3) PARTICIPATION — The key to a successful campaign is the maximum participation of people praying, finding a place to be involved, and giving generously to God’s work. A capital campaign can be a rich spiritual experience for every person involved, from the senior pastor to first-time visitors.

The real purpose of every campaign is for God to build spiritual values into your people’s lives and to create an atmosphere of hope and excitement for the future.

Are you ready to take the next step and experience all God has in store for your church? I pray that you are. Come join the capital campaign revival.

PaulGage-GageGroupPaul Gage is founder and president of The Gage Group.


One Response to “Funding the vision — even in a struggling economy”

  1. I am the treasurer of our churh named Celestial Church of Christ Divine parish, Wilmington, Delaware State. Our church need your help to rebuild from scratch. We are affiliated to the food bank of delaware, apart from been a church, we always feed the needy in the community, counsel the addicts, reachout to the homeless, and distribute toys to the children. Unfortunately, our facility engulfed in fire last year september 12, 2012, eversince, our clients never stopped calling us for lack of food and basic amenities, so we need your expertise to raise funds for our church, anticipated amount is $2.5 million to buy land then build a house of God. The Lord will bless you as you respond to our request.

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