Reasons to have a capital campaign

I had a call from a pastor friend last week.  He thought we were going to talk about bequests and endowments.  We ended up talking about a capital campaign.  That was my fault.

He called me excited that a member of his church had left a six-figure gift in her will.  This is a church with attendance in the 150 range and up until a few years ago consistently finished the year in the red.  This was a big gift for them.

He said they intended to add most of it to their permanent endowment fund that I had made many trips to his church to help them establish.  He explained that they would need to take about a third of the total to spend on capital improvements.  I often hear this and don’t necessarily think its a horrible idea.   And the he said it:

“We won’t have to have that capital campaign we were planning.”

You know that sound of a needle suddenly being yanked off of a record?  That was my response.

His position was that if they had the money from another source, they need not have the campaign.  Why would they go through that if they didn’t need to.

As we talked I began to develop a list of 3 reasons to have a capital campaign.

  • A capital campaign is a great way to challenge your congregation for their giving to grow.  I have no doubt that many of your members are still giving the same number of dollars they were five years ago, maybe ten or more.  The good news is that they are giving.  The bad news is they are in a rut.  A capital campaign rooted in vision and presented authentically can help your people get out of that rut and, in most cases, have a very visible, tangible benefit of their giving.
  • A capital campaign gift provides a tangible buy-in to the vision.  Church meetings and post meetings in the parking lot are full of folk saying that the church should do this or that. But there is a difference between saying that someone should do something and actually stepping up to the plate and paying for it.  Good stewardship says that if it isn’t important enough for the congregation to pay for, it isn’t important enough for other church funds to be used.
  • A successful capital campaign will preserve the bequest for future ministries.  The bequest the pastor had called about could support the church’s ministry ad infinitum.  It would have been between five and ten thousand dollars each year, if the church used a 5% spending policy.  Under current giving patters, it would been the largest single contribution to the church each year.  But if you lop a third or a half off of the principal that annual gift shrinks along with it.

Unfortunately many churches avoid capital campaigns like the plague.  Lay folk are afraid they’ll be expected to give and many pastors don’t know much about campaigns.  Taking money out of the endowment or using other sources of “found money” is certainly the path of least resistance.

In a capital campaign one goal is certainly enough money to refurbish the bathrooms or fix the roof.  But the three goals above are, in my opinion, far more important.  New carpet and drapes are good things, disciples who have moved further along their journeys are far better.

By the way, if you’re considering a capital campaign in your church but aren’t sure of the details the book,  Extraordinary Money:  Understanding the Church Capital Campaign by Michael Reeves is a great resource.  I have a bunch of copies in my office and I’d be happy to send one your way, just email me.  

Photo credit:  Diocese of Paterson, NJ.

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