As Many Church Buildings Decline, Some Are Using Capital Campaigns to Fund Growth

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RSI Stewardship has seen a decline in many church buildings across the country. With RSI's help, Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church has launched a successful capital campaign to renovate and expand the church campus.

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...a strategic capital giving campaign can transform a church from one in decline to one that is connecting with its community and engaging people in ministry.

Leading church researchers have identified a number of reasons churches decline, most of which major on the spiritual, such as not as many people in America being interested in church, a church becoming inward-focused and a host of other reasons. However, a church’s facilities can be a significant factor in decline and an impediment to growth.

Yes, people -- especially families with small children – leave churches because the impression may be that the facilities are unsafe, not clean, depressing or a number of other factors. Likewise, visitors have the same impressions, which is why they don’t come back. Consider this. Most churches are trying to keep and attract people who shop in chain stores that remodel about every five to seven years.

“For better or worse, that is the culture in which we live,” said Jeff Newlin, a consultant with leading capital fundraising company RSI Stewardship. “Parents are taking their kids to modern daycares, shopping in remodeled grocery stores and are probably doing business at a mall that has been remodeled in the past few years. Churches may not be able to completely keep pace with that, but a strategic capital giving campaign can transform a church from one in decline to one that is connecting with its community and engaging people in ministry.”

Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church, located in Columbia, Maryland, between Washington D.C. and Baltimore fits the profile perfectly. The church, founded 50 years ago, is strategically located in an internationally diverse community of professionals. The Fort Meade military installation is also nearby. However, the church has not added a new building to its property or undergone a major renovation since the 1970s. There was very little appeal, said its pastor.

“No question we could easily spend $1.5 million dollars on improvements and you’d never see it,” said Scott Hoffman, pastor at Christ Memorial since 2011. “The infrastructure desperately need to be updated and brought up to code. Spending that money still would not change the building aesthetically. We knew we were needing a significant amount of capital to accomplish what we felt we need to do.”

The congregation and leadership of the church agreed that a major capital campaign needed to be launched if the church was going to have a viable ministry in the community, and it hired RSI Stewardship to lead that campaign.

“One of the things Jeff pointed out to us was the importance of how we initially presented the plan to the church,” Hoffman said. “We could either present it as, ‘Here’s what we can afford,’ or, ‘Here’s what it’s going to take to get this done.’ The church rose to the challenge of doing what it was going to take.”

To renovate existing space and create some new space would range between $2.9 million and $3.8 million dollars. A final budget of $3.4 was approved and the capital campaign goal was set. So far, the campaign has raised $2.06 million dollars – 61 percent of the total and 4.3 times the previous year’s income, a rarity in today’s economy.

Capital giving campaigns most often fail because there is a lack of communication that leads to lack of understanding, and where there is a lack of understanding, there is a lack of financial commitment. Hoffman said part of the process was involving the church in identifying the needs. When the plan came back, it was clearly visible where the needs members identified where included in the plan.

“In a sense it became their plan,” Hoffman said. “ We communicate on everything. We make sure everybody is in the loop, like we’ll continue to give updates during this period where we are working with architects and contractors and you don’t really see progress. We know those updates are important to make sure people stay financially engaged while there is no construction going on.”

Hoffman said Newlin stressed the importance of people feeling involved from the beginning. The more they took ownership of the plan and felt a part of it, the greater the chance of campaign success.

“One thing Jeff kept telling us was don’t have one person do what five people can do,” Hoffman said. “We see the importance of that.

Hoffman said that in the end, the campaign isn’t just about a building, but rather, “It is more about what a building can do.”

“Our church is known for its hospitality and our building, the way it currently is, overshadows that a bit.” He said. “We are excited because the new space is going to be more family friendly in every way. It is going to enhance ministries we currently have and will allow us to expand our ministry to meet other needs in our community.

“The timing of this has been perfect. Our church body is unified and we are heading in the right direction. I believe we are going to be a church in which people are going to feel very comfortable.”

About RSI Stewardship
Founded in 1972 as America’s first company devoted solely to the fundraising needs of Christian churches, schools, and other faith-based organizations, RSI is the nation’s leading resource for practical, faithful, and effective stewardship counsel. The experience and leadership at RSI has made the difference for more than 17,000 partners in ministry.

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Hilary Sutton
RSI Stewardship
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RSI Church Stewardship
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