Raising funds for special projects such as new construction, renovation or debt retirement can be a positive and exciting time in the life of a church. Renewal and focus on the real vision of the church sometimes are precipitated by the capital campaign. All too often, however, churches experience problems in the midst of growth.
Here are five pitfalls that can occur in the life of the church as they undertake the task of a capital campaign, and suggestions on how to avoid them.
1. “WE CAN DO THAT!”
PITFALL: In any growing church there is always more to do than time allows. Yet, when it comes to one of the most important undertakings, leadership says, “We can do that ourselves.” Someone has to own the campaign, giving management and oversight to a multitude of details. Be assured: some one will own responsibility for the campaign. Typically, that falls to a pastor or staff member.What often follows is reduced ministry and a lack of funding. First, ministers may find themselves blamed for not fulfilling ministry expectations. Second, churches tend to raise well below their giving potential.
SOLUTION: A well trained consultant brings time-tested principles and techniques, coupled with the experiences of other congregations, to maximize the campaign efforts and minimize ministry interruptions. An outside consultant adds time to your ministry. Church growth has its origins in and is sustained through ministry. As ministry stays strong, giving is maximized. The cost of using an outside firm will yield returns far greater than the cost.
2. ALL CONSULTING COMPANIES ARE THE SAME
PITFALL: Church leaders frequently fail to focus on the benefits. Their assumption becomes, “They are all the same, so don’t pay more than we have too.” Disappointments come when the company is not able to meet the needs of the church. For example, what will happen if the church is using an individual or single staff company? Who will step in if something happens or the consultant becomes ill?
SOLUTION: Capital campaign companies range from a single consultant to big business. Finding the company that is right for your church is crucial. Search the background of the company and their ownership. Talk to other churches which have used their services. Consider their ability to relate to your total ministry needs. Discover who your consultant will be and deal directly with him/her. Regardless how many companies you research minimize the number of companies you invite to visit with your leadership, usually one to three. Excessive presentations can waste time and confuse the decision making process.
3. THEY ARE ALL BIBLICALLY-BASED
PITFALL: “Campaigns are for the church. Of course they are biblically-based.” In listening to presentations from the companies, leaders become more interested in timing and technique than in where this experience will take the people spiritually.
SOLUTION: Saying a program is biblically-based is not enough. Ask what role the Scriptures play in the campaign. The campaign must be structured in such a way that God is acknowledged in every aspect. How does the program encourage giving? Specifically, what is the role of prayer in the campaign? What about the role of scripture? Do the techniques used in the campaign leave room for God to work through the hearts of the people, or are the techniques filled with manipulation and pressure?
4. “WE CAN SAVE THAT MONEY!”
PITFALL: “We would be wiser to apply the money to building cost rather than paying for a consultant. If everyone would tithe we would not have a problem.”
SOLUTION: Pricing of a campaign varies from company to company. This is one of those places where “you get what you pay for.” Be careful, however, making sure to compare service for service. How many sessions will the consultant lead at your church? How accessible will he be to staff and lay leadership? What deliverables, such as printed communication pieces, web design and video services are included in the fee? Are there any add-on fees? Evaluate the payment schedule. Does the company offer interest free payments? What discounts are available? Leadership should have a clear understanding of exactly what they are buying.
5. “WE DID IT!” PITFALL: The key leadership, even staff, can feel a sense of relief when the intensive part of the campaign is finished and the commitments have been made. “We can relax now.” Life happens to people. Their circumstances change. Sometimes they simply do not follow through on their good intentions.
SOLUTION: It is one thing to get a commitment. It is an entirely different thing to receive the gift. Other than the spiritual emphasis of the campaign, follow-through is arguably the most important element. During the giving period there should be a two-fold plan. Continued encouragement of existing families to be faithful and focused involvement of new members must be well designed. The company should provide a detailed plan and continue to work with the church throughout the giving period. The work of the campaign leadership is not completed until the giving period has ended. The company you select should be there with you.
Getting answers to key questions will help your church avoid these and other pitfalls. Challenge your decision makers to pray, think and ask questions. Your campaign and your church will benefit from those efforts.
John D. Burke is Coordinator of LifeWay Capital Stewardship at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, TN. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.