Capital Campaigns are not going away - but they are changing.
by Greg Gibbs
The reality of 2021 church life in America is that we are trying desperately to look ahead through a foggy windshield.
Most church leaders would have never claimed to be clairvoyant prior to pandemic, but the need for God’s help in planning for the future seems to be especially acute. We used to have a sense for what the coming year would bring, or at least were excited about the plans we had spelled out for our congregation.
Now, we are all, as Will Mancini says, “start up churches” again. The whiteboard in our office is likely blank – or has a lot of question marks above our plans for expansion.
Capital Campaigns are not going away – but they are changing.
And, rarely does a church leader have plans that require little to no financial fuel. That is just a reality in modern church life. So, what can we make of the curious mixture of needing a clear picture of the future, understanding how money dynamics in the church may change, and the fact that we still may need an infusion of cash?
Here are a few quick thoughts for your consideration:
1. Campaigns Were Already Changing Pre-Covid
Our parents and grandparents undoubtedly participated in a church capital campaign that was a “standard issue” campaign. Most initiatives like this prior to 2008 were formulaic – and that is not a bad thing. A 3-Year Pledge campaign for a building or building expansion was a very effective way for churches to advance their ministry. Yet, the generations that experienced this as normative are dying off, and the culture shifts have accelerated (making 3 years seem like an eternity). The result: the upcoming generations are less likely to give to buildings, give to church in general, and to pledge anything for a 3 year stretch. If church leaders are using an old operating system to understand what capital campaigns raise and in what time period, it is time for an upgrade.
2. Our Campaigns May Need to Be Short & Specific
Agility is the name of the game. Church leaders should be less apt to do anything that seems like a 20-year initiative. Not that those projects should not happen – they should just be rare. What should be happening more often is quick bursts of capital to infuse a thoughtful initiative that helps the church pivot to a new opportunity or adjust to a new reality. We used to think of capital campaigns as multi-million dollar building expansions (and those will still happen). But what if we expanded the definition to include a 6-month initiative to upgrade the technology we need to be as virtual or digital as our church deems appropriate (for our theology and church culture)? What if we did a “Generosity” Sunday or Month to fund a new initiative in our community at which our congregation could also volunteer? The changing times demand for a malleable definition of “capital campaign”.
3. Our Understanding of our Congregation Needs An Update
At Auxano, we have learned that church leaders tend to presume they know where their congregation stands concerning the times in which we live. And, to some extent, senior leaders are insulated from the frustrations as well as dreams of the members of their church. Add to that the notion that we all change and grow – that is the point of being person of faith. What has them excited about the future? What is frustrating about their own experience both inside and outside the church these days? What are they positively inclined to support when it comes to the church and its future plans? Are people experiencing financial hardship or are the adjusting and doing fine or even better? We cannot afford to presume. Leadership in the church going forward will need to more often and more effectively have a regularly updated “pulse” on how to serve the people well and minister to a radically different world. Top-down initiatives are a thing of the past. And this includes capital campaign projects. Leaders will still lead, but their ability and willingness to listen will be crucial to any future plans.
So many of us that care about the church are experiencing a complex mixture of feelings of uncertainty as well as hope. Uncertainty seems to come from the idea that church can no longer be “business as usual” for a number of reasons. And hope comes from the idea that the church has more opportunity than ever before to love lost and hurting people.
The good news is that people are still wiling to invest in projects and ministries that make sense and seem appropriate for the times in which we live. Even the younger generations, who we sometimes criticize as not being as generous as their predecessors are giving to initiatives that are doing God’s work inside and outside the church. As we adjust to the shifting dynamics of funding our ministry, we will capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead.