By M. G. Rickard
I have never been a fund-raiser. I know pastors who seem to thrive on this challenge, but I am not one of them. Asking people to give more is hard for me. I don’t mind telling what the needs are, and I am quite comfortable preaching on Christian stewardship, but when it comes to raising the money to build needed buildings, I feel uneasy. The part of a church service I am most likely to inadvertently omit is the offering.
Nevertheless, I have been through many building programs and one relocation project and we have always found the money to meet the need.
One time we decided to employ an outside firm which specializes in raising funds in churches. The initial cost for us to retain them was $8,000, but in view of the large amounts in the millions that would raise, their fee was very fair, I liked the plan. Our elders liked the plan, and our entire board liked the plan. So we began to work it, exactly as it had been very successfully done in many churches.
Unfortunately, I was not comfortable in the role I had to fulfill. It was a fine plan, led by committed brothers in the Lord. The time came when I had to be open with my elders and congregation. I believe that God works through the man he calls. I couldn’t proceed and admitted it to the church. They cheered and even wept and we simply didn’t continue. It cost us $8,000, but it was better to wait for the more clear leading of the Lord than to move where the door was not fully open.
I want to suggest a few plans for raising building funds.
Ask the congregation to cover the entire cost without borrowing a nickel. It can be done. I read of others doing it, but we never have done so at Los Gatos Christian. Think what savings on interest or what a fine facility you could build without having to give so large a sum to the bankers. Actually, every church in America could build every needed building with this plan, easily in fact.
If every new member added by transfer were a tither, and if every new believer were to give a tithe within a few months of his conversion, no church in America would have any financial crisis and every building would be built for cash. And every church would be booming in converts and numbers of people and faithful attendance because “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” according to a Noted Authority on such things. Our trouble is that too many modern believers are baptized in water, but their wallets and checkbooks are hanging in their clothes in the baptismal dressing room. Tithers are needed. The church is weakened today by immature Christians who spend God’s part on their own pleasures. Thank God for the 20% or so in each congregation who honor and obey God with their tithe and more. No congregation in America could survive without them if it owns property and frees its leaders from secular employment.
Raise as much cash as you can and borrow the rest from a lending institution. The main rule to follow is to keep your payments within 25% of your total expenses. As unfortunate as it may be to pay high interest and bank points, the alternative of not building is worse. The main thing is to get on with reaching people for Christ, even if it costs too much. One important principle: Never depend on expected numerical and financial growth to make the payments. No debt should be incurred that the present congregation can’t handle. Some churches just haven’t grown immediately as a result of adding space. Many other factors are more key to growth than facilities. The early church grew like wildfire with no facilities!
When obtaining a loan I have discovered that bankers don’t accept “faith in God to provide” as sufficient evidence of your ability to pay. The following must be in hand upon applying:
An up-to-date audit.
Average weekly attendance over the previous five years.
Your income and expenses over the previous five years.
A copy of the Standard Form of Agreement between the owner and contractor.
A debt service schedule.
A copy of your latest balance sheet.
A copy of your latest budget.
An outline of any capital giving programs.
Forecast data on projected membership increases and giving over the next five years.
Demographic and geographic data on present membership; i.e., age
breakdown, residential areas where membership lives, and occupational breakdown on your membership.
A list of all church officers and their respective titles, terms of office, and occupations.
Some banks may not require all of this information but it is advisable to provide it to justify the loan commitments you are asking the lending institution to make.
Any graphs that show growth in members and finances add to your credibility. Even before formal application is made, we have found it very beneficial to invite the bankers to our offices and give them a tour of the property, introducing them to staff. They can get a feel for the life and strength of an organization just by a quick look and a visit. I have observed that many churches make application for a loan before they are ready and then have to go back and do their homework.
We have never obtained a loan on the strength of having a few wealthy men cosign or stand behind the church’s loan. I hope we never have to. The local church is every member. The entire congregation is standing behind it, not a few wealthy members.
Borrow the money from members and friends of the church and pay them a reasonable return. I really like this plan. There are organizations in every state which help churches borrow from their members. Here is how they work. A member buys a note or many notes. Every six months an interest coupon matures which the member cashes like a check at any bank. The notes are set up to come due at intervals, specifically spelled out and agreed upon. A certain percentage come due and are paid off each year. The church absolutely must set aside funds to meet the due dates. If the notes were purchased with interest compounded, this simply results in a larger return at the date of maturity and there are no interest coupons to pay every six months. Some plans even allow young couples or others with no cash but who wish to help with the building program to put 20% down and make monthly payments. The church gets the full amount of the note to use for the building. Actually, this allows, even forces, members to set aside money for their own future, for college, future trips, or other long-range plans. A big advantage is that no “run on the bank” can jeopardize the church security. Notes are legally required to be paid off only on the date of maturity and not before. In our case we have a policy of reselling notes for members who “have to have their money” or of simply paying them off early when church funds are available. The entire congregation can participate in this plan. It seems better to pay interest to our members than to a bank. With an investment in the church, they tend to be more loyal and concerned about the entire ministry.
Hire an outside fund raising organization. We have never used this plan, but it has benefited some churches. Target dates are established. Teams are trained to ask for money from the members, beginning with the potentially large gifts. Potential big givers are put on committees and given important titles (sometimes totally regardless of spirituality, faithfulness, or lifestyle). The outside organization forces the church to make every call, beat every bush, and confront every member. The professionals are trained to be bold, aggressive, and “challenging.” They don’t mind telling a member what they think he should give over the next three years.
The advantages to the plan are as follows: Once the ball is rolling, as it will in a short, professional drive, the “everybody is doing something” psychology takes over. As public testimonies are given and individual amounts pledged are announced, members feel an almost irresistible compulsion to do what they can. Many give or pledge to the point of sacrifice, and that principle is sorely needed in the church today. When the campaign is over you really know who your members are! You also know which ones suddenly decided to attend elsewhere.
In a church which raises funds by pledging, this plan works best. In a church like ours where we use Dwight Moody’s motto, “Trust God and tell the people,” it is offensive, to say the least. I have mixed feelings. Stewardship in most churches is much Lower than what it should be. I am the first to admit to sacrifice and give to the Lord’s work. But the fine line between Biblical challenges to good stewardship and Madison Avenue techniques of arm-twisting is a line I don’t want to step across. If people leave, it could actually be a purifying of dead wood and carnality. It could also be the loss of members who would one day come to Christian maturity.
There are other building fund plans and there are variations of these. The important thing is to build buildings so as to reach more people for Christ “while it is yet day, before the night comes when no man can work,” and then to bring each one to maturity. In 2 Samuel 24:24 David says, “I don’t want to offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that have cost me nothing” (LB).
PRINCIPLES TO PONDER
1. Only build after adding multiple sessions while growing. But when the time comes to build, don’t delay.
2. Don’t be afraid to challenge people to give.