By Greg Gibbs
It’s difficult to find a word that captures the dynamics of the year 2020. When it comes to the churches in America, so many things are being questioned and reconsidered.
It’s an exciting time for many who’ve been longing for a recalibration of the church. It has felt like a new wave has been building. And perhaps the new wave has crashed on the church at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
At the same time that we may have a new outlook on life and ministry, some leaders still have big plans on the table and in the calendar that were set before we stayed home for months.
It seems like the prevailing question for the second half of the year of the pandemic is: “Should we go back to the plans and methods we were executing pre-COVID-19, or should something be substantially changed?”
This question is deeply felt by churches that had a big capital campaign on the immediate horizon. Is it a good time to invest in this way?
Here’s the bottom line: Campaigns will still happen in the future. The church has prevailed over bouts of turmoil for a few thousand years and has made adjustments along the way—many of those shifts were brought about because of an unexpected calamity.
Yet, God will lead congregations and their leaders into the next phase as He has done before. Churches will not stop reaching their community and discipling their congregation because of a pandemic.
Additionally, churches will likely not scrap everything they were doing before 2020, even if some will re-shape it in a significant way.
Healthy Questions Being Asked
It’s very healthy to ask whether the church’s overnight digital renaissance ushered in a new view of how much we should be investing in buildings.
As a matter of fact, this is one of my favorite discussions! Still, capitalizing assets will still be a reality even if those assets make a shift toward technology to support a new normal.
People will still gather in buildings—even if we have a different view for how those structures serve our mission in the future.
The great news is that the COVID-19 era was an audit on the capacity of our church to minister beyond one hour on Sunday.
Some of us passed the audit, and others have some work to do in order to be viable in moving forward.
Reasons to Go Forward
The first conversation for leadership to have is in regard to the reasons they want or feel the need for extra capital. If there’s not a high level of clarity and agreement about the “why” behind the campaign, it’s off on the wrong foot.
It’s widely known that campaigns struggle when the vision for the church’s future is unclear—and that’s irrespective of any economic condition.
Church people need to see an obvious connection between a project and increased ministry effectiveness.
If we’re asking the congregation to give over and above their regular support, now more than ever, it needs to produce a response like, “Yes, of course, we should invest in that! That totally fits with who we are and where we’re heading!”
Anything short of that will be an uphill climb. Consider the following three realities your church may find itself in when it comes to future investment.
1. You Were Ready Pre-COVID to Pull the Trigger.
Many churches had already done the due diligence of financial feasibility, conversations with builders, initial designs (or more) with architects, and analysis with lenders.
These four pillars of readiness (fundraising professionals, builders, architects, and lenders) are the essential conversations.
Once back online, an updated conversation with each of these professionals will allow for any adjustments that need to be made in post-pandemic realities. Some churches may need to adjust scope, timing, or financial target.
But the fact remains that not much has changed in the need for a campaign. The urgency is still felt by both leadership and the congregation.
Some churches can go forward because their local economic situation isn’t as compromised as other regions of the country.
2. You Have a Post-COVID Vision That’s Compelling.
An exciting possibility is that many churches will have a new perspective on what their congregation or community needs.
The unexpected need to adjust “on the fly” and listen in ways they have not done in years, will give many churches a missionary-like posture.
They’ll be diagnosing the culture around them and strategizing with new reconnaissance about the best approach to ministry in their context.
I pray that many churches will have a fresh approach that’s so compelling it will be like a church plant—with all of the nervous and excited energy of the early days of the church.
Church leadership can make this tangible by pointing out how different investments will produce new fruit. Some churches will need more than a splash of capital to fund new ideas and new wineskins.
3. You Have Needs That Cannot Be Ignored Much Longer.
At a very basic level, some churches have deferred maintenance or debt entanglements that are threatening the church’s ability to thrive.
Though these campaigns have a more difficult time in garnering support, they’re needed, nonetheless.
And depending on how church leadership can paint a picture of a better future, they can be executed very well.
These campaigns can be very successful when leaders can cast a vision about how ministry investment will look “when we don’t have to worry about the roof leaking into the sanctuary” or “when we no longer have that debt service payment every month.”
For example, churches that currently meet in schools may have a harder time doing this going forward—this is an example of a need that cannot be ignored.
As we continue to try and understand Christian generosity in all its forms, it may not be a coincidence that when we ask God for wisdom on these and other matters, Scripture indicates He gives it out generously.
May God bless us all with the wisdom we need to lead in whatever situation the future holds for each of our churches.
GREG GIBBS (@auxanogreg) has held pastoral positions at churches in California and Michigan over three decades and has consulted for nearly 20 of those years. This article is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing from his ebook, Time to Build? Church Capital Campaigns in Post-Pandemic America.