Money issues are complicated. It’s hard for a congregation to talk about money. It’s even harder to ask for it. You can expect any issues concerning building, money, and stewardship to produce conflict in the church.
While it’s safe to say that the majority of us would like to have more money, perhaps that is all we agree upon. For example, some people think of credit card debt as an acceptable way to get what you want or need right away, while others are very uncomfortable with any debt at all. Conflicts in church are inevitable when it comes to money and building projects. Some people will want the best of everything in the worship setting because that is a particular way of encountering God. Others will take the opposite view, saying that worship can happen anywhere, and that the poor should be taken care of instead.
Far too often, money issues are a proxy for deeper question of what is valuable or important. For a worshipping community money is never an end goal. A church doesn’t exist to make a profit, but a church can’t exist if it doesn’t at least have some funding. Once you see money as a way to accomplish or facilitate a desired outcome, then you can focus attention on the end goal and what’s the best way to use money to achieve it.
It’s a good idea to get a sense of the attitudes your congregants have about money and debt before you enter into a capital campaign. You will no doubt need to raise money, and you most likely will take on debt. Giving people a chance to talk about this in preparation will help to lower any anxiety. Here are some perspectives on approaching money issues in advance of your building program:
- Invite congregation members to share their money autobiographies. It is very likely there will be generational trends. Some of us who were raised by parents who lived through the Depression may feel the need to have a certain amount of money in the bank at all times, while a generation of entrepreneurs may see debt as an essential tool for growth. This sharing may be done in small groups, or as part of an on-line survey. Simply asking your leadership group to openly share with each other their own experiences may provide valuable insights.
- Talk about the theology of money. People of faith often struggle with the rationale for supporting themselves as an institution vs. supporting those in need in the community. This is also reflected in the need for meeting day-to-day obligations versus long-term capital investments. Finding a balance between these pressures is ongoing. So much the better, then, if you talk about this as a community and try to come to a consensus and develop an intentional plan for keeping the right balance over time.
- Be transparent. Some people are quite willing to give, simply because they believe in the overall work of the congregation. These days, though, that attitude of trust isn’t all that common. Nonprofits that have misused funds are all over the news. Expect potential donors to want to know exactly how the money will be used. So tell them. And keep updating them as the funds are raised and are spent.
- Engage the experts. Fundraising, financial planning, and money management each require very specific skill sets. People in these businesses want you to be successful (and able to pay back your debt!), so hire qualified experts. There are even professionals who specialize in working with congregations, and who understand the particularities of churches and church groups. If you are part of a larger faith community or denomination, you most likely will have access to financial professionals through this association.
- Recruit expertise. Some people are just more comfortable dealing with money than others. While everyone should be encouraged to participate in planning and implementing a fundraising program, some people will naturally be better at leading the effort. Don’t expect your regular church leaders to be the only ones involved. You may have financial expertise within your congregation, or individuals who are simply gifted in asking for donations. Recruit wisely and make sure these gifted people are properly supported and acknowledged.
- Don’t be afraid. Even if you think that you can’t raise enough money to get everything on your building project wish list, don’t give up. Your creative architects and contractors may find less expensive alternatives. Or your architects may help determine potential phasing to accomplish a bigger goal in smaller increments.
- Think long term. Money spent now in a building program will support the congregation for decades. That’s good investment and good stewardship. Remember this when you are determining the quality or direction for your building program. Will this decision mean a building that costs more money to maintain? Are there going to be problems in the future because something was built poorly or cheaply? If you think of the building project as an investment in the ministry to which you feel called, people may begin to feel more comfortable as they determine their financial priorities.
- What’s it worth? It’s tempting to see money spent on a building project as “too much” no matter the amount. That money could be used for so many other things. It can seem that way, but the choice isn’t between doing ministry and starting a building project. The latter is actually in service of the former. A more functional building that inspires your worship or provides an encouraging and safe place for kids to learn is worth making a significant investment. If your heart’s desire is to serve God as part of a faith community, what is it worth to you to have an uplifting space that actually helps you do that?
Guest blogger Laura Lincoln, an expert in managing church change, will be contributing a series of blogs over the next several weeks dealing with early issues of conflict in planning for a major building program.
-- Laura Lincoln, MA, MS
Laura Lincoln, MA, MS is a theologian and organizational psychologist who has served as an intentional transitional minister, organizational development consultant, professor of Christian Worship, and campus minister. She has worked as a consultant for churches of various denominations in both the United States and England, is the former Executive Director of the Texas Conference of Churches, and the current Director of People and Organization at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.
Laura studied at/has degrees from Walden University, Yale University Divinity School, St. John's School of Theology (Collegeville, MN), Gettysburg Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest.