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The Unanticipated Upside of Capital Campaigns

April 11, 2017

Let me begin my stating my purpose.  I am not being compensated by a capital campaign company, nor do I “moonlight” for one.  I will make no money off of this article (though I am open to it).  Let’s face it; no one makes any money writing anymore.

I have been a Sr. Pastor in one church for twentyyears and we have conducted four major building projects and four major capital campaigns in that stretch.  We have grown from 200 to over 2,200.  We have raised millions and changed our region’s skyline but there has been a somewhat “unanticipated upside” to these many campaigns I would like to explore because I think it could be helpful to pastors and churches and I love pastors and churches.

Many growing churches consider capital campaigns to be a “necessary evil.”  I have heard the description countless times by colleagues.  Campaigns are often viewed as being conducted solely to underwrite the cost of a building venture or paying down a debt.  They are seen as regrettable means to a desirable ends.  We all know if Christians tithed, we would not need capital campaigns.  We need them, ergo a “necessary evil,” something we need that we shouldn’t need.   Products of the Fall.

So we rationalize away the “evil” part of it because we just can’t shake the “necessary.”  We tell ourselves that if we were not living, vital and growing, we would not “need” to have a capital campaign and that helps us feel better (aided in part by the fact it is true).  And we intrinsically know we need to stay positive because capital campaigns are expensive (just try not hiring professionals), involve thousands of hours of “extra” of uncompensated work for everyone, play into the bias of critics (i.e. all churches want is money), hurt worship attendance and clearly stress some congregants (mainly the ones who don’t give).

I would like to suggest the possibility of a church leadership paradigm shift concerning capital campaigns.   Campaigns can be a huge boost to the mission of the church if conducted properly!  There it is, the “unanticipated upside!”  Capital campaigns have aided us in our mission of “connecting people with Jesus Christ!”

Here are twelve “unanticipated upsides” capital campaigns offer a church which speak directly to the mission:

  1. Future Focus Getting people looking forward not only gets them all headed the same direction, it gets them in the right direction.
  2. Sharpens Mission Capital Campaigns force you to drill into your mission, clarify your strategy and target your message. All good.
  3. Unites in a Common Cause There is nothing more exhilarating than experiencing the synergy that comes from the joint pursuit of big goals and dreams.
  4. Challenges Staff Church staffs have lots of extra hours thrown at them during a campaign. This challenges them to look closely at what they are presently doing and ask some great questions like, “Is the way I have been working the best use of my time? What am I doing presently that does not need to be done at all?”
  5. Challenges Laity Every shred of research I have read says that “high expectation” churches thrive and “low expectation” churches die. Asking people to step up is generally met by people…stepping up.
  6. Creates Excitement In this Social Media driven world, buzz is good. A church investing in their future is a church trending in all the right directions.
  7. Develops New Givers Campaigns get additional attendees “on the board” as givers and we have found that they keep giving once the campaign has concluded.
  8. Provides a Clear Culture I often tell new folks, “If you are looking for a church to see how little you can do, how sparingly you can give and how small an impact you can make on the world, we are not going to be the church for you.” A clear church culture allows people to self-differentiate as to their involvement in it.  Campaigns make it most uncomfortable to sit on the proverbial fence; people on the fence will either move in or out.  That is also a good thing every now and again.
  9. Demands Teamwork Campaigns make all your “natural silos” cooperate with one another, require a holistic and strategic approach to ministry and unites staff and laity. We have discovered that the same process used to mobilize a church around raising capital can be used to mobilize a church around anything else a church wants to emphasize.  Again all good.
  10. Allows Participation in a Miracle I had hoped to reach pledges of over $2 million in our 2015 “Raise the Roof” campaign.  We nearly eclipsed $3 million.  There was celebration going on in the house! Whether someone pledged $1,000 or $100,000, we all shared in a collective miracle.
  11. Encourages Discipleship The reality is that most pastors struggle to talk about discipleship when it comes to how we use our resources.  The reasons for this are legion but the reality is that what we often fail to engage, was a favorite theme of Jesus.  Making the paradigm shift from “How much of my money should I give?” to “How much of God’s money should I keep” is a 400 Level discipleship piece pure and simple.
  12. Celebrates the Power of Story Families are united as much by story as by blood.  A church family, however, is united solely by story.  As we tell our “small s” stories, we are invited into God’s “big S” Story.  Through story we are nourished, empowered, included and given hope that the same God who moved in our past, we also be mighty in our future.

I have long argued that churches must do three things to be effective: 1) Make new Christians 2) Make disciples of them and 3) Send them out to make new Christians.  If we are effectively reaching new people for Jesus, we are going to have to find places to put them and that is going to cost money…lots of money.  And until everyone who attends church begins to tithe (which isn’t going to happen), we are going to run capital campaigns to raise that money.  That is just the way it is.

My point in writing is elementary.  The next time your church has a dream so big it necessitates a capital campaign (and I hope you have one soon), don’t waste an incredible opportunity to move your mission forward by settling for simply raising money!

Easter Christ Church 09

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997 and has led the congregation through four major capital campaigns.

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