Capital Campaigns:
Inspiring Generosity through Abundant Vision

The concept of the capital campaign was first introduced in the Book of Exodus. Interestingly, God reminded the early religious community to use their gifts and talents to achieve God’s goals.  Moses was the first religious leader to recognize the need for a capital campaign.  This campaign focused on people giving a portion of their assets to support the religious community.  They gave independent of any annual budget campaign (Exodus 25:1-9Exodus 30:11-16.)  Despite the success of Moses and his followers, many contemporary church leaders fail to follow his example.   As a result, these congregations often experience financial giving patterns reflecting an attitude of scarcity rather than one of abundance.

The purpose of the capital campaign is not to provide a quick-fix solution or a super-sized financial aid package for a struggling congregation.  Rather, the capital campaign is an opportunity for the church community to strengthen and to empower life-changing ministries. It is a shared celebration of God’s grace and providence.  The capital campaign spiritually compels the congregation to give their assets for future ministry and outreach. The capital campaign may be underwriting the renovation or expansion of a church building. Yet, congregations are far more motivated when the project invites them to rally around its impact on people.  A line item budget of building expenses rarely invokes an intrinsic connection to the project.  The end result of ministry that will occur in the building draws people’s greatest interest and generosity.

So how do church leaders know if they should commence a capital campaign?  First and foremost, the process begins with prayerful contemplation.  Seeking God’s guidance in all endeavors helps to assure a connection to God’s direction.  The capital campaign is a faith-sharing, spiritual journey, not a mere fundraising effort.

Second, church leaders create a list of the measurable ministry goals based on the church’s strategic plan and vision.  What new or repositioned ministries would enable the church to more effectively engage in vital outreach and disciple-making?  Once this list has been compiled, church leaders consider if updating the current space or increasing the physical property would add to the probability of reaching or exceeding these ministry goals.  Do the church leaders seek to start an endowment fund to support existing and emerging ministries?  Do the worship services require enhanced technology to connect more meaningfully to younger generations?  Would additional staff facilitate ministry expansion? These questions represent some of the ones to be discussed during the early consideration of a capital campaign.

It is critical to underscore that the capital campaign is connected directly to the church’s mission and vision.  If the church has not established its core values, mission, and vision, then leaders might abort any attempt to begin a capital campaign.  Church leaders must be able to define the core values, mission, and vision if they seriously desire to gain the spiritual and financial support of the congregation.

Third, once church leaders have established core values, mission, and vision, they clearly define in a brief case statement the connection between the expected outcomes of the campaign and the core values, mission, and vision.  Clear communication from the onset will alleviate the possibility of disenfranchising some constituents from the project.  Individuals step up to offer their prayers, time, talent and financial resources when they are presented with an articulate, visionary campaign.  People’s imaginations are captured with relevant, focused projects.

Are church leaders now ready to launch a capital campaign if they have followed these suggestions?  Perhaps.  However, leaders often fall short in anticipating the implications of achieving their initial goals.  For instance, the annual budget may be significantly impacted by expenses associated with the completion of the project.  Will additional staff need to be hired?  How much will operating expenses increase with additional space?  What will be the increased programmatic cost for these emerging ministries?  The strategic plan for these often overlooked areas needs to be developed.  Forethought to these critical issues will strengthen the long term impact of the project and all of its related outreach and ministry. 

Except in very rare instances, an outside consultant provides the greatest probability of success.  The consultant can effectively guide church leaders through the entire capital campaign process, including strategic planning and a feasibility study.  A capital campaign consultant is necessary especially for churches that have been unsuccessful with prior campaigns or that are conducting a capital campaign for the first time.   The consultant is prepared to detail church strengths and weaknesses without alienating church committees or individuals. The consultant is often able to secure significant lead gifts that the church leaders are unable to attract themselves. 

A capital campaign allows one to give from personal assets and to witness to the priority of God in one’s life.  A capital campaign offers an incredible opportunity for one to connect joyfully to a God-honoring vision.  Moses knew long ago that a capital campaign was a significant method to extend God’s ministry in the world.  Church leaders are called to give prayerful consideration to the ways a successful capital campaign will transform ministry and service in God’s honor.  Be committed to passionate leadership, share God’s abundant vision, and anticipate the congregation’s inspired generosity!

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