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Our Capital Campaign Just Got Delayed to 2021

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A discussion of advantages and a new timeline to consider

By Greg Gibbs

It is not surprising that churches poised and ready for a major capital campaign this fall are re-thinking this timeline.

As disappointing as this may be to some leaders, I think it is an advantage in a few ways. Let me explain that, and then offer a revised timeline for church leaders to consider.

Besides, imagine launching a campaign and then having something like the global pandemic happen a few months later. My colleagues and I started a $25M campaign at Kensington Church outside of Detroit in 2008 right before a massive recession felt deeply by the Motor City. Believe me, the next few years were complex. And that’s the nicest word that just came to my mind.

A Refined Strategy Around Facility Use

The exciting part of the fruit-basket-upset that we are experiencing is that we have a forced “time out” placed upon our churches. As much as we think we did our homework and vetted our need for more or better space to do ministry, we just got one more chance to answer the question, “Leader – are you sure this is the best investment for our church?” This is not a bad or disloyal question.

The ground just shifted, and our circumstance proved that the people of God will find ways to gather whether a building is available or not. Just think of the many believers in oppressed political environments that not only don’t have buildings but can’t.

The answer still may be a resounding “yes” to the question about whether or not we need a facility-focused campaign. I am personally coaching churches right now that have urgency driven by the fact that they do not have a building and are convinced the best thing to do in their context is build one. I also have a friendship with leaders of an historic church that has dreams for the future and a roof that may fall in. In both cases, when tested by the stay-at-home era, they still insist on moving forward.

But the point is this: Congregations will not abide a shaky reason for a capital improvement. With rare exceptions, we cannot present a “nice to have” improvement option that is focused solely on creature comfort in our buildings. The proposed use of space requires a rock solid connection with ministry effectiveness. It always should, but we have been able to get away with having loose ties to ministry and mission.

A Chance to Test Vision Clarity

I learned a long time ago that churches could run campaigns, even financially successful ones, without top-notch clarity around their vision. But it is not ideal.

When church leaders forget that the campaign is so much more than raising money, they may forfeit the opportunity to tighten the ties a church member feels to the church’s objectives and long-term plans. And, the deepening of a member’s devotion to and connection with Christ is also a frequent result of a well-executed campaign.

When I come alongside church leaders to help them through a campaign, I set out with the goals of more financial fuel, more engagement with the vision, and deeper connection with Christ. Those three results are a product of a vision for the future of the church that is so clear and compelling that it does not take selling, manipulating or cajoling anyone to fund that vision.

And more than ever, a wobbly vision will not stand up to asking for giving beyond one’s normal giving. People are wary of over-spending by any organization, including their church. But people are also still giving loads of money to groups that show the clear connection between investment and results. Universities, civic and arts groups and more will benefit from the largest wealth transfer in human history. So the church need not be shy. I believe, however, there has never been a better time for a re-check on vision clarity with volunteer leaders and some of the most faithful financial givers before we forge ahead.

A Realistic Picture of Financial Capacity

One of the tendencies people have is to paint financial pictures with a broad brush or presuming certain emotions upon people in the congregation. I have heard more than a handful of leaders offer things like “our people will be scared to give because of the economy” or “there is no way we can come back in early 2021 with a big capital campaign.”

For some churches, these things may be true. We have learned that financial and economic circumstances can be dramatically different from region to region or city to city. As always, I challenge leaders to interact with members of their congregation both informally and formally to find out the pulse of what’s going on. As pastors, I believe we need to lean on men and women who work outside the church to give us helpful reconnaissance on the way forward. Every pastor that I have encouraged to do this has been thrilled with the sweet, pastoral and helpful conversations that have occurred.

Economics may have changed a lot, a little or not at all. Regardless, I cannot recommend highly enough a formal assessment of the congregation’s inclination to give capital over the next few years. Without completely tossing out the plans or designs that have been created for a 2020 campaign, I believe that a formal assessment by the end of this year or the first quarter of next year is virtually a necessity. Again, presuming that the congregation is in the same position either emotionally or financially is not advised. People need to process with church leadership how they may want to proceed into the near future.

A Proposed Timeline for Churches Proceeding With a Capital Campaign

My colleagues and I approach all capital campaigns (before or after pandemic) with a three-zone approach – Discover, Design, and Disciple. The Discover phase includes a bulk of the analysis of financial targets and capacity. The Design phase includes the preparation of media and materials and the Disciple phase is about the public time – when we engage the congregation. Though these phases sound sequential, there is certainly overlap.

With this in mind, a 2021 campaign could look like this:


These three zones or phases take a few months each (approximately) so they can be shifted forward or backward to accommodate each situation. For instance, if church leadership would prefer to allow for some breathing room after the pandemic to adjust to the next chapter (or new form) of gathering, then the phases can be slid to later next year:


For most churches, using 2020 for the preparation time as mentioned above is a way to keep moving forward at a reasonable and wise pace. Most time in preparation is not wasted time – a lot of the materials and media prepared for the campaign can be used even if the public phase is delayed by 6-12 months. We are strongly urging a formal Congregational Assessment and are honored to help churches through this process.

If nothing else, our team at Auxano is not discouraging capital campaigns in the future but is urging caution about moving forward in 2020 with the public phase. We also believe that churches will continue to gather in buildings, even if our overall palette of ministries may change or diversify.