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3 Surprises About Churches Borrowing Money

Some results from a survey of pastors.

Several years agoLeadership journalconducted a survey on churches and their borrowing practices. The results included a few surprises, as analyzed by Wheaton College professor and former church elder Bruce Howard:

  1. Very few churches have a formal policy against borrowing. Only 6 percent of the churches, more smaller than larger, said they had a policy against borrowing for reasons of financial prudence. Another 3 percent had a policy against borrowing based on biblical grounds. Given the rhetoric on the issue and that overextended consumer credit is such a widespread and difficult problem, we expected to find more formal policies against debt.
  2. Size is a significant factor influencing capital fundraising techniques. Some techniques were reported to be more effective than others. In large churches givers seem to relate more to vision; in smaller churches, givers seem to be motivated more by their fellow members.

    Approaching lead givers and making home visits were rated much more effective in smaller and medium-size congregations (budgets under $500,000) than in larger congregations. Larger congregations reported greater effectiveness when the capital project was tied to the mission statement. They also favored special events (such as campaign banquets) more than the smaller congregations.

    Only 29 percent of the churches reported using a fundraising consultant. However, slightly more than half (53%) of large churches hired one. Of the churches that did hire a consultant, 62 percent found it to be more effective than not, with about one-fifth reporting the outside consultant's help to be very effective.

    In a world full of specialization, we were surprised a bit by the fact that smaller churches generally did not use a consultant. We also expected that larger churches would be more likely to have the expertise within the church and therefore not use a consultant. The opposite was true in both cases, which may be another reason why larger churches more willingly tackle larger fundraising projects and smaller churches are more likely to report negative impact from their money-borrowing projects.
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