A Good Time to Launch a Church Building Campaign?
Church congregation growth may run on God's timing, not the economy's. The ability to deal with that growth, though, is more dependent on earthly funds, and the dollars in a church budget may be fewer when members are losing jobs and savings.
So what happens to church growth campaigns when the economy is going downhill?
Bill Walter is president of Church Growth Services, an organization that helps churches plan capital campaigns for building and growth projects. Walter has been in the business for over 30 years and offers a historical perspective on what seems to be the current recession and how it could affect churches.
How is the current economy affecting church capital campaigns?
Churches are becoming more cautious in terms of taking on major capital projects. The very name capital campaign suggests people typically are challenged to make extraordinary gifts to the campaign from capital-type assets. And with capital assets such as stocks, bonds, and real estate having gone down considerably, there's somewhat less likelihood that folks are able to commit at the level that perhaps they could have in more prosperous times.
Many times there are only a relatively small number of folks in the church who can make a gift out of assets, but there are many people in the church who can make gifts out of income.
This is where the individual or the family will pray about this and discuss it and say, "Over the next three years out of our wages and our earnings, we'll commit x dollars per week or per month." Those types of gifts are less at risk and still available, whereas the gifts of assets have been somewhat decimated by the recent market turmoil.
When asset giving goes down, do you usually see a surge in income giving to make up for that or does giving just drop?
Giving to the church from income is a function of people's employment and their continued earnings from their job. If we were, for instance, to see the unemployment rate spike considerably from even where it is now, then giving from income might become more in jeopardy.
But most times, folks who are giving their weekly tithes and/or offerings will continue to do so as long as their employment hasn't been seriously compromised or jeopardized.
Do you have any thoughts on comparing this apparent recession to recessions in the early '80s and early '90s?
I began in 1973, which, if you recall a bit of history, was the time of the first Arab oil embargo. This was followed by the most serious recession since the depression, from '73 to '75. Through the early 1980s the economy took serious hits, unemployment was in double digits, and inflation and interest rates were well into double digits. And then, of course, there was the recession of the early '90s.
So I've seen a number of these cycles. What I've discovered is that where there's a compelling vision and a need that is evident, wherever that may be, God's people will rise to the occasion. Sometimes generosity actually increases—at least the level of sacrifice increases—through tough economic times.
Is starting a campaign during a recession more difficult?
It's ironic but I think it's somewhat to be expected in God's work and in God's economy that many times the greatest opportunities for ministry intersect with the most difficult times economically.
As times get tough, people often have greater interest in the church and in faith. Churches see an influx of people and then are challenged with the need to accommodate them, and that might relate to a capital campaign.