Financing the building program

If you're planning a building project soon, you're probably wondering just how to work out the finances.

James O. Cunnington is stewardship and development director of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and has been heavily involved with church building programs for more than twenty years.

Among the tasks pastors face, financing a church building program is certainly one of the most challenging. The opportunities and risks associated with the task are unique. How well you as a pastor meet the challenges will reflect not only on your leadership but also on the church's ability to serve its congregation and community effectively for years to come.

Opportunities for positive accomplishments in a building project abound:

• Church unity can be enhanced through working together on a project with highly visible results.

• The principle that "where your money is, there will your heart be also" can be a factor in improving members' spiritual experience.

• The spirituality of the church family may improve as members work together for a common purpose.

• Recognition in the community can be enhanced. But as with all opportunities, there are also risks:

• Arguments over details can lead to disunity in the church.

• Improper fund-raising can lead to hardening of hearts and alienation from fellowship.

• Failure to maintain a spiritual ministry while you are concerned with the physical building program may actually lower community respect for the church, especially if it becomes evident to merchants that saving dollars is more important to the church than saving souls.

Division of responsibility

Two leadership principles will help you to keep your pastoral priorities straight as you begin your building project. The first principle involves separation of tasks into two categories: spiritual and mundane. The spiritual tasks require your spiritual leadership. Mundane tasks can be handled by competent lay leaders. As pastor you must be directly involved in spiritual leadership but less directly involved with mundane management.

The church members look to you for guidance and education in the principles of Christian stewardship. They look to you to inspire them with visions of a new building and its spiritual values. They should not, however, look to you to take over leadership in mundane matters that require secular management. Here you should merely delegate responsibility and coordinate the results.

The second leadership principle deals with the secular management of the project. Henry Ford once said that no job is too large if you can break it up into the right number of small segments. You can employ this principle in church management by creating church board subcommittees and coordinating the work-assigned to them. When the church board appoints a subcommittee it should clarify the subcommittee's authority. It will be helpful to specify the areas where the subcommittee's recommendations must be discussed, coordinated, and voted by the church board. This limitation of authority is necessary in areas where the church board needs to coordinate the input of several subcommittees into an organized working plan. In other responsibilities the subcommittee should be given authority to make decisions and act upon them.

The following schedule is designed to utilize both of these leadership principles.

Preparation phase

As you begin preparations for building, appoint the following church board subcommittees and give each its preliminary assignment:

1. Long-range planning committee

Assignment: Discuss and recommend a long-range program. Outline details of the new facilities. Include in the report an estimate of the overall costs.

Note: This subcommittee would do well to make up a questionnaire and distribute it prior to the worship hour. You will achieve best results by taking the survey at church service on two successive weeks.

Follow-up: Church board reviews committee recommendations and surveys and proposes a long-range plan detailing the type of building and facilities that will be needed.

Option: If a new building is an obvious need, a business meeting to which all church members are invited may not be required here. But if the idea of a new building is relatively new, you will probably want to hold a business meeting at this point. In either case an information-giving meeting will help to unite the whole church behind the project.

2. Building committee

Assignment: Work with an architect to prepare the floor plan, a description of the space and services the structure will provide, and a drawing of the building.

Follow-up: Church board will discuss facilities needed, use of the building, and total number of square feet to be built, then prepare recommendations for a whole-church business meeting.

3. Finance committee

Assignment: Determine estimated cost of the building. The architect can provide figures based on style of structure and total number of square feet to be built.

Estimate reasonable maximum building fund income from the congregation. In medium-sized churches a reasonable maximum would be about 3 percent of members' incomes. This can be estimated from tithe.

Recommend a financial plan. The committee must be very careful to give a full and open report. Even if it means you will have to reduce your overall plan, report accurately. You may be required to break your construction plan down to a phase one and phase two. If so, compare added building costs that will result from delay with the cost of more interest on a larger mortgage now. Report and encourage, but do not overextend your ability to meet mortgage payments. Do not plan to build faster than covenants and cash flow provide for. The concept that the members will start to pay when they see something built is a myth. Today when members see something being built, they presume that it is properly financed.

Follow-up: The church board should coordinate the committee's findings with reports from the long-range planning and building committees and then schedule a church business session to present recommendations to the church as a whole.

The church business meeting

A few do's and don'ts may help you to keep the business meeting on track to accomplish the most good. At this meeting you do present the style and general appearance of the building, the floor plan with a description of facilities, and the estimated cost based on square footage.

The congregation should decide on such things as the type and general appearance of the building as recommended by the board, and the financial plan outlined by the finance committee and voted by the board.

At this meeting you do not present or decide the question of stained glass windows, style of pews, color and other interior decorations, or any other mundane or aesthetic detail.

At this meeting, challenge the church members with a new financial opportunity. Aesthetic details seem to cultivate an expression of natural selfishness. For this reason the best fund-raising is accomplished when the member is thinking of the facilities that are needed and the estimated cost rather than construction details. If all goes well at the business meeting, the board should now expand the finance committee into a church building publicity committee.

The publicity committee

Selecting the right people for the publicity committee can be an important key for building a firm financial base. Typically about 50 percent of the building fund pledges will come from about'15 percent of your highest income members. Ask as many as possible of the individuals from this group to work on this committee. Also, look for and enlist those people skilled in writing and in creating printed graphics. And you will, of course, need to include members from the building committee.

The publicity committee's assignment is to produce and send three mailing units during a four- or five-week period and then follow up the mailers with visits.

Unit one should be to introduce the project, explaining the business-meeting actions. Unit two should include additional information urging members to plan for building fund covenants (pledges) to be made each year until the building is completed and paid off. (You may wish to recommend chat they consider from 3 percent to 7 percent of their income.) Make it clear that building fund gifts are in addition to church budget gifts. Unit three should be the most complete unit. It should include the architect's sketch of the completed building, the floor plan, an explanation of the facilities, a covenant (pledge) card, and a letter briefly explaining all enclosures.

By the time the last mailing unit has been sent, you should have visiting teams ready to follow up the mailings with personal contact. The most productive procedure is to print extra copies of mailing unit three for use by the visiting teams.

Members of the publicity committee along with church board members should divide the names and visit the entire congregation to share the plans.

The purpose of this visitation is not to solicit money. The purpose is to explain the physical plant and the financial plan. If visitation is impossible, the group can accomplish the same task by telephone, but results are not usually as good from the telephone contacts.

After the personal contacts, the publicity committee should produce and send out three more mailings. Unit one should explain that the church is requesting anonymous pledges and that you are allowing four weekends to accumulate all decisions. Enclose another pledge card. Unit two should be a two-week follow-up and report letter; and unit three, the final follow-up and report.

The reason for having the pledge cards filled out anonymously is that many members are sensitive about anyone knowing the size of their contributions. Some indeed may find deep spiritual expression through nonanonymous giving. Other members may want to make a memorial gift or other announced gifts. They should not be discouraged from giving in this way. As spiritual leader you can help all donors avoid selfish exhibitionism, either through encouraging anonymity or through encouraging careful examination of motives. Anonymous pledges can provide the expected rate of building fund income and are really all that the finance committee will need for monitoring income levels.

When all pledges are in, the work of the publicity committee is completed. Since it was an ad hoc subcommittee of the board, the church board should now reinstate the regular finance committee and give it the responsibility of monitoring pledges and monthly income and preparing and recommending a long-range financial plan to the board.

The building committee

As the financial plan materializes, the church will delegate responsibility to the building committee and empower it to act. The church board will have general input on building details, specifications, et cetera, but its input should be limited. Empower the building committee to coordinate window style, pew style, color selection, et cetera.

As pastor you can maintain the strongest spiritual leadership by being positive and powerful in explaining the Christian principle of stewardship and the spiritual value of the new building.

Your leadership will continue to be respected if you will delegate secular and mundane matters to those most capable of handling them, utilize your church board as the final voice to coordinate various items from all subcommittees, and delegate full authority to the building committee to act in areas where social/economic and aesthetic taste allow for several ways to do the job.

Sometimes the board will vote items not necessarily to your own liking. Use these occasions to illustrate that our spiritual unity is improved when we cheerfully accept the vote of the majority. A properly conducted building finance campaign can be a big plus in your ministry. It can result not only in a finer edifice but also in the edification of the real church—the people.

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James O. Cunnington is stewardship and development director of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and has been heavily involved with church building programs for more than twenty years.

August 1985

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