We have recently been in conversations with church leaders who had been in different planning stages for a 2020 capital campaign prior to the COVID-19 disruption.
For them, the past few weeks have been a scramble to get a worship service online (or adjust their current online worship) and then begin to stabilize the financial realities. After this, their next big question has been: what do we do about our capital campaign scheduled for 2020?
Not surprisingly, the decision is different in each context. But unavoidably, the current situation affects economics, people’s income, and the sense of fear or faith that people will exhibit during such a time. In short, these are all factors to consider in any capital campaign – they become especially poignant in this season of social distancing, economic downturn, and persistent instability.
We are seeing that the responses toward what to do with a planned capital campaign (and every other major or event/initiative) seem to be running along a continuum. The decision on one end is to call-off or Cancel your campaign. The opposing decision is to Go Ahead with your campaign. And likely most churches will be somewhere in between the two extremes. We will call those options: Table, Re-Assess, and Shift.
In some situations, the economics just do not justify a capital campaign this year or in the near future. These are often situations where the nature of the crisis has sidelined many members of the congregation in terms of their income or job stability. Think Detroit in 2009 – where so many people literally left the state because jobs vanished overnight. For other churches, the pandemic era has made it clear that the direction their church was headed missionally may not be as appropriate as it felt or the changing landscape of how ministry will work going forward. It seems that every church will need to think differently about buildings and their use – especially when so many people are creatively and effectively designing ways to minister outside the building this year.
To table something means that it is not over or canceled, but rather in a mode of being set aside for a later date. In other words, there are “bigger fish to fry” than the capital campaign for some churches because of the ways in which the pandemic has brought other things to the top of the priority list. A church may have the posture of, “Yes, we need this capital improvement, but it is probably not the top priority at this point. We will put it back on the table as soon as we are able, but let’s just not even try to make this happen right now.” As discouraging as this may be to some church leaders, it is perhaps the wisest thing to do in a certain context. In essence, a church may table a campaign if they know it will need to come around again (and cannot be canceled), but just don’t want to spend the organizational energy on it now.
At this point, churches will need to re-assess for one of two major reasons: financial realities or vision fuzziness. Churches cannot operate under assumptions about the financial impact on their congregation. First of all, it is pastorally insensitive. Second, it is not helpful to have a utopian view of people’s ability or willingness to give extra contributions. Honest conversations need to be conducted, especially with the 20% that make up 80% of the giving. Also, the shifting sands may have revealed some fuzziness about your future as a church. What are we really called to do as a group of Jesus-following people on mission? What do we need to consider about the way we gather, commune or serve? Does our current capital campaign take into account (or get impacted by) any of these new ways we may need to execute our mission?
Because church campaigns happen, in all but very rare circumstances, at either two times of the year, some churches are just shifting by a few months. Campaigns are either between Labor Day and Christmas, or between New Year’s Day and Easter (depending on where it falls). For instance, if a church was planning on a fall 2020 campaign, it can be shifted fairly easily to a first quarter campaign next year. This delays the public phase of the campaign by only three or four months but allows for more distance between now (a state of uncertainty) to early 2021 (a state of more “new normal” even if we are not totally out of the woods). The work that needs to be done to organize for an effective and discipleship-based campaign can still happen this year so that efforts are not wasted. The public phase will just be executed after Christmas.
There are still quite a few churches that are in a “go ahead” mode. This includes churches that have a financial stability that is less threatened because of the work category of much of the congregation or the region of the country that is less affected by this economic instability. Other churches have urgency to their project that dictates they move ahead (e.g., “The school will no longer rent to us; we need a permanent facility.”). These churches understand that there may be some sort of impact to the overall total raised but see the timing as the highest priority as opposed to a “home run” campaign. This requires a discernment that still necessitates a check-in with members of the congregation – particularly high capacity donors that can significantly impact the total one way or the other.
We recently talked with a Christian foundation in Atlanta that is choosing to have a nuanced version of the above options of Table/Go Ahead. Their situation demands (for a number of reasons) that they move ahead on the timeline that they originally planned to raise capital. Their focus on church planting and developing future leaders is as urgent as ever. At the same time, they recognize that the ground is shifting this year almost by the day, but certainly every few weeks. The mode we collectively chose to move in was a go ahead with caution and with “pause” options. They are in a multi-phase journey of articulating vision, assessing donor buy-in, designing marketing and media, private conversations with major donors, and the public phase. In each step along the way (or each wave of effort and execution), we have committed to do a check-in to make sure we are still comfortable with moving to the next wave. If not, we will push “pause” until new information will cause us to act differently.
The above continuum is not meant to presume that anyone has an unambiguous place in the five categories. But it may give your leadership team something to discuss and then pray about, seeking discernment from God and wise counsel.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Auxano’s Congregational Assessment
We always consider local and national economics when coaching a church through a campaign. We also discuss intangibles like our sense of the congregation’s confidence in the church’s mission or specific plans for the capital. We specialize in helping church leadership clarify their way forward in terms of strategic priorities and then evaluate how the capital investment is a way to fuel those priorities.
Most of our churches do a formal study of the financial capacity and inclination of the congregation called a Congregational Assessment. We use confidential surveying and private interviews with core households in the congregation to determine levels of buy-in and interest in giving. The reconnaissance includes questions that reveal where members of the church stand emotionally, spiritually, and financially when it comes to the proposed future that includes a capital campaign.
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