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Pastor's Role in a Church Capital Campaign

5/13/19 10:10 AM / by Denis Greene

“Many pastors are afraid of a capital campaign,” a pastor told me. Now retired, the pastor admitted he too had put off his first campaign for quite a while. What was he most afraid of? Talking about money.

There’s a true story about a priest (identifiable by his collar) on an airplane who struck up a conversation with another traveler. After some conversation, the traveler said, “I hope you’re not one of those pastors who talks about money.” This particular pastor happened to be a stewardship guru in his denomination, he jumped right in and responded, “I absolutely talk about money… a lot. Jesus talked about money… a lot. Most persons I know talk about money… a lot.”

Few of us would be so excited to engage this topic. Why? Well, some pastors DO talk about money too much. Some churches do misuse money. Some clergy do live extravagant life styles. Some do lay guilt trip on parishioners. And so on.

Which is why many pastors are afraid of a capital campaign, which of course does talk about money… a lot.

But a good capital campaign doesn’t focus on money… it focuses on gratitude, on community, on opportunity, on responsibility. A good capital campaign focuses on stewardship. (As an official ICSC partner, we build this philosophy into every church capital campaign process we manage.)

I recall talking with a friend of mine who had raised millions of dollars to almost totally rebuild a church structure into a beautiful house of prayer and community life. He recounted the first time he asked a congregant for one million dollars. He said it got very quiet in the room, until finally the prospect said, “I never thought I’d HAVE a million dollars, let alone have someone ask me for that much. Let me think about it.” He called back later to say yes.

What did the man think about? Probably the answer lies in his words, ‘I never thought I’d have a million dollars.’ It’s hard to think about not having much, then having an abundance, without feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Gratitude is not only a central theme in the life and teachings of Jesus, it’s the central theme in a good capital campaign. That’s one reason a good church capital campaign plan actually builds up the life of the church community, while of course improving its facilities and mission. We consultants hear it a lot, at the end of a campaign: ‘Wow, that was a lot of work… and a LOT of fun.” Maybe hard to believe, but true. People are really grateful for a great capital campaign.

What would be the pastor’s role in such a campaign? Maybe it’s easier to say first what it’s not: it’s not to be the campaign manager. For one thing, managing a church capital campaign takes hours and hours of time, time pastors really want to devote to everything else they have to do. Also, managing a campaign means keeping track of a lot of moving parts…best to leave that to someone trained for it and familiar with the process.

The Pastor's Role in a Church Capital CampaignThe pastor does have 3 primary roles:

  1. help determine the campaign goal and strategies

  2. educate the congregation about stewardship

  3. listen to members’ concerns and answer questions.

What do these roles look like in a typical campaign? The campaign goal and strategies are generally determined with the Steering Team (3 meetings) and the Management Team (6-12 meetings). Your professional campaign consultant will coordinate these meetings and ensure that all the important topics and tasks are addressed.

Stewardship and campaign education takes many forms: preaching about stewardship in the weeks preceding Commitment Sunday, writing or editing a regular column in the campaign newsletter and brochure, presenting the case from the pulpit, attending events (10 on average), presenting the case, and answering questions, signing letters.

These tasks can be quite easy or quite difficult, depending on the goals of the campaign. Let me take the example of one very unusual church renovation project that was actually funded over three separate campaigns: one well before the church renovation was begun, one while the work was being completed, and one when the work had been finished for a number of years.

The first campaign included discussion and education about what the finished product would look like and how it would be paid for. The pastor spent a lot of time discussing options, attending focus groups, meeting with influential (and sometimes wealthy) parishioners in a feasibility study . Over time the entire congregation had embraced the vision and was on board. This campaign generated commitments to about half the total cost of the project.

The second campaign, begun as soon as the first one was over, was not a surprise to anyone. The congregation had been well educated about the funding process through sermons, community events, and professionally designed communication pieces; they were expecting the second tap. The project was developing exactly as promised and people were excited about it. This second campaign was easy.

The third campaign was essentially a debt campaign, since the church had been almost totally renovated and had been in use for several years. Once again, this campaign was not a surprise, but it did take effort on the pastor’s part. Some parishioners who had failed to fulfill their pledges had to be encouraged to step up; new members had to be approached (sometimes individually) and asked to make a substantial pledge; all members had to be reminded frequently that their contributions were necessary.

As noted earlier, this was an unusual campaign process. I mention it, not because you’re likely to be engaged in such a process, but because it offers a look at some of the varied tasks a pastor will be engaged in during a capital campaign. This campaign was a resounding success and resulted in one of the most beautiful and functional churches in the Midwest.

Many people contributed to the success of this campaign, and the pastor’s performance was absolutely key. The pastor executed his campaign role without undue stress while maintaining excellent pastoral services throughout the process. Aided by a competent professional consultant, the pastor learned his role and led his congregation to a remarkable outcome.

ebook church capital campaignsFor more tips on a church capital campaign approach that fits with a spirituality of stewardship, download our e-book on church capital campaigns and watch our webinar to plan a parish capital campaign

Topics: Capital Campaigns

Denis Greene

Written by Denis Greene

Greene began working in the nonprofit development field in 1981. He founded Church Development in 1992 after a near-death experience motivated him to integrate his faith, education and skills in work that served the church and the virtue of stewardship. He has helped over 200 churches across the USA raise more than $200,000,000. He is the author of The Stewardship System, Stewardship-Based Capital Campaigns, and How To Ask For Donations as well as numerous articles on stewardship.

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