I'm sure you've heard clichés such as, "simple as falling off a log" or "easy as one, two, three" or "this is a piece of cake"--but most likely not attached to the idea of raising significant sums of money for a ministry project, a new building or debt retirement. Churches across the country are being confronted with the issues of how, when and what to do when it comes to funding their God-given visions. There are a lot of details to sift through, and just the thought of raising money is daunting--even overwhelming--for many pastors.
That's why many commercial lenders require a relationship with a capital stewardship specialist as part of the overall assessment of an organization's credibility and borrowing potential. Careful financial planning is not optional. It is required for completing a campaign successfully.
There are several thoughts to consider as you ponder the merits of initiating a capital campaign in your church.
First, don't settle for just a fund-raising campaign. More important than buildings is the edification of lives. Long after the bricks and mortar have crumpled, the changes you have helped make in people's lives will endure.
Second, when God gives a dream, people of faith can see what is not yet built. You must see your project in your mind and heart before you can invite others to follow and share the dream.
Third, pray diligently, plan wisely, give sacrificially and boldly follow God's will. The resources needed for your project will be provided.
Before you are ready to begin a stewardship campaign, there are some definite steps you should take as a church that will be a litmus test of sorts. Following are four crucial checkpoints:
1. Define your mission statement. You are not ready to seek gifts until you can make a clear definition of the following: Why does our church exist? (Have you generated a written mission statement?) What special programs, ministries or services do we offer to respond to the needs of the people as reflected in our mission statement?
Is our mission statement quantifiable? (Have you set measurable desired results?) Is our mission statement spiritual and practical?
2. Examine your needs assessment. Ask: What is the reality of our needs? How will our project enhance our programs, ministries and services?
There need not be, and rarely is, a unanimous agreement within the constituency of a congregation regarding the validity of a project. However, building consensus to the vision is essential, and the leadership must be in unity. Articulate a case statement as to why people ought to support the project and outline how a successful campaign will benefit the church or institution.
3. Define your project. You must rely on the leadership and the professionals to stay the course. Create a master plan that can be implemented in properly timed phases.
4. Review your congregation's giving potential. This is where a good stewardship specialist is invaluable--and where a poor one can cause disasters. The process is extremely delicate in that you are dealing with some of the most personal information in a church body. But it is crucial to know information such as how large and committed is the volunteer base, how many donors you have and how much is the current average gift.
So why do some campaigns fail? A few of the major reasons are: poor campaign facilitation; a pastor who does not lead by example; lack of leadership consensus; not getting the appropriate volunteer base; setting unrealistically high goals or pessimistically low goals; starting to work on your project prior to the campaign; and an ill-defined project.
While it is scriptural that "without a vision the people perish," it also is true that without a plan the vision will perish and without funding the plan will perish. So plan carefully and prayerfully.
Jerry Parsons is president of Ministry Resource Group, which specializes in church management and stewardship campaigns. Visit his Web site at www.ministryresourcegroup.com or call (800) 709-4MRG.