The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Church Capital Campaigns

The new millennium did not slow down church capital campaigns.  The presence of campaigns only grew during this period.  Then 2008 happened to all of us, and immediately the economy went down the slide and church capital campaigns disappeared overnight.  Now, similar to the titling in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this chapter of the saga is adequately titled, The Return of the Church Capital Campaign.

It is not much of a surprise.  During the recession, church communities postponed building projects and other needs beyond the scope of the annual operating budget.  But now with warmed financial markets, community leaders are reengaging strategic planning and major fundraising.  Before the recession and the fall of capital campaigns, some church campaigns achieved what leaders desired by enabling the raising of funds to support vision initiatives.  Others did not.  Some campaigns failed miserably.  And the great failures are still haunting many congregations facing debt, finger pointing, and confusion.

With the rise of the capital campaign, I invite all community leaders considering such a project to enter carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.  Campaigns can be an enormous catalyst for gospel-based change. Or a crook.  Campaigns can take more than they give.  Watch out.  Be alert.  Take the following to heart:

1)  Discernment is a gift from God.  Prayerfully seek to know God’s will.  The fact other churches are moving into campaigns is a possible indicator of what your community should do next.  Pray and keep listening.  Are there differences between your community and the community moving forward with a campaign?  Can you learn anything from the church communities that did not have healthy campaigns at the turn of the millennium?  What about those that did?  Are you truly ready and able to  campaign?  Why are you ready?  Can you wait three to six months to better prepare?  Seek God’s will.  Look, listen, and learn.  The opportunity to discern is God’s gift to you.

2)  Buildings are not a vision.  Erecting a building to save your church from decline, or to help your church grow, is not a vision.  The gospel, the kingdom, is the vision and mission of the church.  Build only if building is a vision that wells up from your understanding of the gospel of Jesus.  Buildings can be resource centers or hubs for ministry.  But don’t make them into ministry idols.

3) Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  Before you try to raise major funds that will outpace your annual budget, have conversations with members of the community.  Discuss the vision with members.  Listen for reactions.  Ask members to pray and to join you in prayerful discernment.

In short, ask yourself what you have learned from other church communities who have facilitated capital campaigns in the last 15 years.  What are three best practices?  What are three unhealthy practices?  Let’s learn together from history how best to shape our future.

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