Here is a trustworthy statement – how people spend personal funds is typically how they spend church funds.
I’m a frugal guy. When I had a church budget as a youth minister, I always came in under budget. Now as a missionary, I rarely spend all of my working funds. There are other people I know who would burn through money in their homes and when entrusted with church funds, they do the same.
I’ve seen that time and time again. Church leaders make decisions for church funds based on their beliefs and practices with their own funds. I’ve put this post together with some random thoughts regarding churches and building campaigns.
Considerations for Churches in a Building Campaign
On Borrowing Money For Churches
Borrowing in the Bible is never expressly forbidden, but you won’t find much support for the notion of borrowing.
Larry Burkett writes, “On average, Christians pay 400-500 percent more in interest per year than they give to God’s work” (from Money Matters).
I would never, never, never encourage a church to borrow money from church members through bonds or anything similar. There is too much at risk. Money complicates almost every relationship. Don’t put a money stumbling block between the leadership and the congregation. If things go wrong, there is far too much at risk.
Churches should only borrow a reasonable amount of their contributions after pledges. I’d say a reasonable amount would be payments between 15%-30%. That is based on absolutely nothing more than my feelings and personal opinions.
Thus, if a church collected $10,000 a month, their building payments should not exceed $3,000.
Just read this reader story:
It all started in 2000 with a new pastor that had a vision to grow in numbers. We started by with a building campaign to have better exposure in our town. We bought 20 acres and built a 16,000 sq ft building. That was the first step. We held a fundraising dinner and asked people to give …. We were a church of about 350 and took the road of $800,000.00 in debt to build. We had pledges of about $200,000.00 from that dinner and moved forward. Only about $100,000.00 of that came in. … We moved in the new building around July of 2001. Then we need to renovate the old building to become a youth center. So another 200,000.00 was borrowed along with some [loans from members of the congregation]. So 2 years in and collecting about $2000.00 a month toward our building campaign which had a loan payment of approx $9000.00 a month. ($7000.00 short a month). Mean time the stress on the Pastor was beginning to show. Tithes and offering were down, we had to cut stuff in the budget, (i.e. benefits to staff, ministry outreach, etc.) The congregation was slowly shrinking because of the direction the Senior Pastor was leading. There were sermons on if you’re not with us you’re against us. Long story short, about 6 years in, [we were] without a senior pastor, 1.2 million in debt and just hanging on.
This is the real world. The project began with the best intentions, but at the end, there was a significant emotional, financial, and spiritual cost. Debt’s destructive claws gripped too tightly.
Remember: if God can provide tomorrow, he can also provide today. All church building projects must walk a fine line between trusting and testing. However, far too often churches think, ‘Let’s get the biggest loan possible and then trust God to provide’. That can be a dangerous game to play because it borders on testing God.
On Leadership and Church Building Projects
The responsibilities of the building project should not be placed on the church staff who have a pastoral call. Building projects and campaigns often take precedence over everything else. In the case above, even the preaching schedule and agenda can be consumed by the one thing that is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As a minister, I can say ministers carry a tremendous amount of burden just trying to care for the souls of the members and the lost. If there is no one in the congregation qualified to oversee the building project, consider outsourcing the job. Keep a Kingdom focus at all times.
Don’t manipulate from the pulpit. There is an occasion to preach about giving from the pulpit. However, manipulating people to give to a building campaign is a gross misuse of pastoral authority. Your building project is not the only thing God is doing in the world. If members feel called to participate in other good works, then you should encourage that as a participant of kingdom work.
Pray, pray, pray, and then think.
Contact a consultant. Depending on your denomination or church structure, you should be able to find someone who have been involved in at least one building campaign. Call them up and ask for their ideas and suggestions regarding your own building campaign. Never go forward without the advice of wise Christians. There are some people who work exclusively in the industry as consultants for churches entering a building project.
Maintain a spiritual focus. Our church was actually defrauded when we bought church land. That was over four years ago, and the wounds are still as fresh as if it were yesterday. We are at an important junction because we are deciding how to proceed as far as ongoing legal action. At all junctions as a church leader, I’m encouraging the congregation to consider the spiritual impact of every decision.
I pray that God will use church building projects for His Glory. I pray that those who desire to build a name for themselves via a building project will be humbled. This is not our work, but the work of God. May He lead churches through this very important stage of development. Grant us all the wisdom we so clearly lack.