Inspirational stories such as the story of Clarkston United Methodist Church, Clarkston, Michigan, provide encouragement, insights, and motivation. Their clear vision for ministry, hearts full of gratitude for God’s blessings, and willingness to follow God’s leading proved to be a winning combination. Add to the mix competent, capable, and faithful leaders and the story becomes a roadmap to growing generosity and achieving God-sized ministry objectives.
In 2012, when conversations began about values, timing, and next steps, the leaders at Clarkston UMC had already been dealing with the constraints of a space that no longer fit their call to ministry. Their prime location had great potential, but the leaders were cautious to not adopt a “build it and they will come” attitude. Instead of building for building sake, they set out to engage the congregation in meaningful conversations about ministry needs and how to address them. A series of TownHall meetings provided the opportunity for sharing detailed information regarding the plans for expansion and re-purposing of existing space to meet current and future ministry objectives. The entire church community received an invitation to join in the discussion regarding how Clarkston UMC was being called by God to live out its vision.
Clarkston’s leaders began searching for a capital campaign firm that would enable them to fund their project and fulfill God’s vision for ministry. Based on recommendations from other senior pastors and a desire for an organic process that fit their culture, Clarkston UMC chose Horizons Stewardship. Rick Dake, Clarkston UMC’s senior pastor said, “We had not been thriving in the area of stewardship and wanted someone to tow the line with us.” Capital campaign co-chair, Ric Huttenlocher added,
Following a comprehensive pre-campaign study, Horizons determined Clarkston’s capital campaign was likely to raise between $2.3 million and $3.0 million over the next three years. The projection was based on a review of historical data, meetings with Clarkston’s staff, multiple face-to-face interviews with key church leaders, and an online church member survey. The survey also provided insights into how the campaign process should be designed for the highest degree of effectiveness. Rev. Dake explained,
Over the next several months, the congregation engaged in intentional prayer using a 21-day devotional guide and gathered in various groups and settings to share their questions and enthusiasm for the project. The highlight was Gratitude Sunday which, according to Rev. Dake was “our Good Friday and Easter rolled into one. It was without a doubt a holy time for this congregation. We became unified in our understanding that what we do matters and that we are, in fact, changing lives through this ministry.” The campaign unfolded during Lent, which was, at first a concern for Rev. Dake. “I did not think it was a good idea to conduct the campaign during the holy time of Lent. When I saw the impact the campaign’s spiritual component had, I realized I had been wrong. It turned out to be the best Lent we ever had,” explained Rev. Dake.
According to Rev. Dake, the capital campaign had a considerable impact in many areas. Rev. Dake said his understanding of generosity shifted beyond simply an adaptation of stewardship language. He clarified,
Clarkston United Methodist Church continues to grow in worship, giving, and ministry. Following their successful capital campaign, Clarkston UMC also partnered with Horizons to conduct a Taking the Next Step annual budget campaign. According to Ric Huttenlocher, “We needed to devote the time and energy to helping people understand the meaning of generosity and how to apply generosity principles to their daily lives.”
Every gift is valuable when you’re running a capital campaign – continuing to provide events, programs, and services to the community takes investment. In 2018, you can make your capital campaign more successful than ever by keeping in mind a few best practices and fixing a few issues that can plague even the most efficient church fundraising efforts.
You may feel like momentum is on your side, or like a big church vote points to a need to act swiftly. Or maybe you have a note coming due. When a church comes to me with such a sense of urgency, I wonder if they did not know all of these things several months back. I respond that we can certainly go “right now!” but I sure wish I had more time. When things are rushed, the chance for errors increases markedly. You frequently do not do things as thoroughly or creatively as you might like because the clock is ticking. If you see even the possibility of a campaign in your church’s future, call immediately. Talk with a professional about timing. The cost to have someone under contract is the same, whether it’s for one year or for two months. Ideally, you should have this conversation from one year out to no later than nine months out.
Don’t settle for less than what you need for your budget. When someone comes to me asking for less than what they might really need, I ask them if they could use two times the amount. Usually, I get something like, “Well I guess, but we have not talked about it.” This is a big mistake. For a campaign to raise you half your budget will cost you the same as if I raise 2-3X the amount. At least test for a higher target. Once your church has done a capital campaign and declared victory; that’s it. You can’t turn around and do it again in a year – you’re done for a while. Whenever you think you will need a campaign, make sure you are trying to reach your maximum potential.
You are fishing in the wrong pond. Capital dollars do not fund operating budgets. The annual pocket or (better yet) the generosity pocket supports your operating budgets. This approach is entirely different from a capital campaign. It may even take longer, but it will pay long-term benefits.
The lesson in all of this is to be cautious and thoughtful. First, diagnose your problem or need. Then identify the right solution. And finally, take a step-by-step approach under the guidance of a qualified, experienced partner. The result will be a smoother, more successful capital campaign that will sustain your efforts for longer and even help to build community through the funding process.
This article was originally published by Voices on Stewardship (voicesonstewardship.com).
Recently, I was reading through a magazine for church leaders when a quote in one of the articles caught my attention. The quote was, “Donors don’t give to pay down debt.” Having been personally connected to dozens of debt campaigns that have raised in excess of $170 million, I have found that people will give generously and sacrificially to address the issues and restrictions caused by debt. Moreover, a debt campaign can be highly energizing and catalytic in a church’s journey to realize their vision and mission of reaching people for Christ. However, campaigns focused primarily on debt require a very different approach and strategic messaging.
Simply asking people to give because the church has debt rarely inspires sacrificial giving. Remember – not one single member of your church is losing sleep because the church is in debt–except maybe the pastor or business administrator. The reason people are not concerned about the church’s financial obligations has much to do with the fact that many church members are struggling with their own debt issues. Therefore, the message surrounding a church debt campaign has to communicate how reducing debt will allow your church to reach more people, make more disciples, and grow your ministry.
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then moving forward with a debt campaign is imperative.
Communication before, during, and after a campaign should be open and transparent. The congregation needs to understand how the debt was incurred, how much exists, and the plans for paying it off.
Surprisingly, many of your church members do not know or may not remember how the debt came about. If the loan obligation is a result of building construction, members may assume if the building is complete it is also paid in full. If the church conducted a capital campaign but did not raise all of the needed funds, some people mistakenly believe the first campaign actually took care of all of the financial needs. Unfortunately, some people will believe the debt is the result of poor decision-making. Do not assume people accurately recall the events leading up to taking on the debt. Be proactive and transparent when communicating the cause or source of the debt. A clear and accurate timeline of events will provide a strong foundation for your campaign message.
Once the first question has been addressed, make sure there is no ambiguity regarding the full extent of the debt. As with all communication to the church, assume nothing and state facts in several different ways so people can fully grasp what you are saying.
People are often surprised by how much of the operational budget is needed to service a debt. Help your people see the debt total from both a monthly and yearly perspective. Show the debt service using a dollar amount as well as a percentage of total expenditures. For guidelines on the impact of debt service, go here.
The total lifetime interest of a loan creates the “ah-ha” moment for many where the reality of good stewardship comes into play. People are motivated when they can see how much could be saved in the long term by addressing the obligation more intentionally. People will become inspired when they realize how the interest saved could be used for ministry.
Help your congregation understand the length and long-term consequences of the loan. Was the loan amortized over 10, 15, or 20 years? Could the reality be, at the current pace of repayment, your children and possibly your grandchildren will still be paying on the debt? Saving years, as well as saving interest over the life of the loan, is just good stewardship.
Members need to understand the underlying reasons behind raising funds to eliminate the financial obligation. The goal is not just to eliminate the debt but rather to achieve specific ministry objectives. People are inspired to give more willingly and sacrificially when they understand the objective. Reducing or eliminating loan obligations is to free up resources so the church can engage in new and expanded ministries such as:
As mentioned earlier, people are not inspired to give so their church can be debt-free. People are inspired by the larger goal of growing ministry.
Encouraging families and individuals to be financially free and teaching them how to live with margin is essential for the church. Provide personal financial management classes and encourage your members to free themselves of financial burden. A debt campaign sends the message that the church operates by the same teaching. Find more insights here.
Debt campaigns focus on something that happened in the past. Many churches balance that “looking to the past” perspective by including something future-oriented and tangible. This could be a specific mission project or a low-cost facility enhancement. A word of caution here: without question, the primary focus in a debt campaign is eliminating or reducing the debt. Any “add-ons” should not interfere or reduce the potential for maximum results or disguise the main objective.
Your congregation knows it bears the burden of paying that debt. The only choice the church has is how to pay that debt. What is the best stewardship practice to deal with indebtedness? Eliminating or reducing debt is about changing the future of the church. It is about repositioning the church’s financial picture so the church can invest financial resources in ministry rather than in debt service. It is about effectively freeing the church to make future funding decisions. Changing the debt position in your church does not just impact ministry for two or three years; it repositions the church financially to reinvest in ministry for the next 10, 20, or 30 years. Reducing or eliminating debt is simply good stewardship, and a wise step that will deepen your congregation’s trust in your leadership.