How debt-elimination capital campaigns create margin for ministry

By Joseph Sangl and Chad Aukland

Churches today are facing substantial challenges as a result of debt. Prior to the economic downturn, it was easy to obtain financing for major projects. With the economic downturn and resulting lending restrictions, these churches are experiencing budget crunches and refinancing challenges.

This, combined with individual giving declines, has sent many church leaders on a hunt for solutions to their debt woes.

Many have used capital campaigns as a key step in addressing their debt. In fact, nearly 80 percent of capital campaigns led by our company have included debt reduction.

Any church looking to address its debt issues must start by asking a key question: Does the current debt impede your church’s ability to do ministry? If the answer is “yes,” it creates urgency to address the issue. This urgency will provide the impetus for the entire church to take action and address the situation.

Less debt = more ministry
Recently, Pastor James Sunnock and Victory Life Church in Battle Creek, MI, experienced this exact scenario. His church embarked upon a debt retirement campaign, and God showed up in a very special way. The congregation clearly understood the urgency of the need and sacrificed together to accomplish the vision of dramatically reducing the church’s debt. Even more, the church set attendance records during their campaign, and 93 people were saved.

Vision clarity is vital to the success of any capital initiative; this is never truer than during a debt-reduction campaign.

The communication and messaging of the vision must be focused on how debt reduction helps the church accomplish more ministry. We care far more about life change than we do about reducing $1.2 million in debt. Be sure to connect the dots on how the elimination of debt will result in changed lives. Instead of saying, “We’re going to eliminate $1.2 million in debt,” communicate how the church’s $7,919 monthly mortgage payment could be used for more ministry.

Can you really place a dollar amount on a changed life? It might be difficult, but one can certainly share it this way:

“When this debt is eliminated, we’re going to be able to add a full-time children’s pastor and fully stock a food shelter.

Our children and our community are going to experience the love of Jesus through our church because we sacrificed together to accomplish the vision of debt freedom.”

Banks are also driving many churches to conduct debt retirement campaigns to refinance existing debt or to reduce the bank’s exposure. This can be a great thing for the church — when the congregation unites to address a real issue.

Additionally, a successful campaign can result in additional financial margin for the ministry and improved interest rates on debt.

Debt can weigh down church leaders and cause them to challenge the vision God has provided. However, once the bonds of debt are broken, leaders have the freedom to look to the future with great hope and certainty as their mindset shifts from “what we could do …” to “what we can do.”

Joseph Sangl is the president and CEO of INJOY Stewardship Solutions. Chad Aukland is the director of ministry relationships for ISS. A free report — 5 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Church Fundraising — is available at


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