I became a Christian at Buckhead Church at the beginning of 2010. About a year later, I met a beautiful woman at church, who took some time to convince that she should go out with me. Only a year later, that woman accepted the craziest proposal of all time- she agreed to put up with me for the rest of her life! While I have always considered my wife a very intelligent and intuitive woman, this overt capitulation certainly created some doubt. Soon after we were married, North Point ‘assimilated’ us into a Just Married Small Group, which was by far one of the best decisions we made as a couple. The very first book we read in this group was The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller.
The premise of this book is pretty simple- if you ever want to know how messed up you are, get married. After working with churches for a while, I soon recognized a very close corollary between Tim Keller’s accurate depiction of ourselves in marriage and the pastors who are trying to lead their churches through a large capital improvement, relocation, multisite expansion, etc.- if you ever want to know how messed up your church is, go through a building project!
If you ever want to know how messed up your church is, go through a building project!
During a building project, everything from your vision to your organizational chart, ministry priorities, financial operations, etc. are put on the table for everyone to see (and to express an opinion about). For a lot of pastors, there were quite a few things that passed muster throughout the years leading up to the project that soon shows themselves as unexpected deficiencies. Our financials have always worked for us, so why are the banks having a hard time lending us millions of dollars? Why are my key givers asking questions I wasn’t expecting? And, why am I having to explain to one ministry leader why he’s not getting everything he wants when another ministries director is? And wouldn’t that problem just go away if people gave what you knew they were capable of giving?! On top of all of that, you’re working through this entire process of hiring architects, contractors, fundraising consultants, managing budgets, and talking to banks, leading your team and your church through change, all while maintaining all of the core ministry competencies of the church. This sheds light on why so many pastors leave the church within 3 years of a building project!
Not every church goes through this pain, but growing churches do. Why? Because growing churches all have one thing in common – growing churches have more needs/vision than budget. As a growing church, there is a good chance that a high percentage of your giving base is within 2 years of their relationship with you and the church. A lot of people in the room don’t give at all, and still want to show up and disappear without being noticed, but thoroughly enjoy the experience. The growth means that you have needs in every area of ministry, but without a fully developed giving base, you don’t have the fundraising capacity and borrowing capacity to pay for all needs related to every ministry area. Your greatest opportunity is also your greatest challenge – growth.
Here are a few points to consider before taking on a large building project:
Get your financial house in order
This is the foundation for every decision you will make throughout the process. If your church is generating more than $1MM in revenue, have a CPA prepare your financial statements annually. If you generate less than $1MM, surround yourself with prominent business people in your area who are proficient in finance (bankers, CPA’s, etc.) and engage them consistently. We also always recommend looking at the option of outsourcing your bookkeeping.
Be proactive in your financial strategy
Your annual budget is the sum of small parts – your givers. Those people don’t respond well to reactive financial strategies. Your congregation needs you to talk about money and develop a culture of generosity before you surprise them with a project and a fundraising campaign. Make people a part of the story and the vision of the church proactively so people don’t feel as though their role is a pay-to-play request.
If this is the first building project you are taking on as a leader, don’t go this alone. Hire someone who has been through the minefield before and can walk you through it. We’re talking potentially millions of dollars and years of time, as well as people’s trust and ’their money’ (not that any giver ever thinks of it in those terms). Also, it’s nice to have an ‘industry expert’ be the “no” guy so you don’t always have to be.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Trust is everything, especially when you are leading through change. Don’t overcommit, don’t set goals you don’t have reason to believe you can achieve, and always, always, always share the win. So much of building trust in this process is setting incremental goals, reaching them, and communicating them.