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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Would You Do If Your Church Got A Huge Donation?

Brinks[Crosswalk.com]  An AgapePress story cites a new survey about what pastors nationwide would do if their church received an unexpected financial windfall. The research was conducted for Facts & Trends magazine -- a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention -- and sought to clarify the overall budget and spending priorities of clergy and lay people. According to the survey, 31 percent of the more than 500 Protestant pastors surveyed said they would build, expand, or update their church's buildings and facilities. That preference was even more pronounced among Southern Baptist pastors, 43 percent of whom said they would spend the unexpected financial boon on facilities. Sixteen percent of all pastors said they would use the windfall to increase community evangelism activities. Paying off debt (12 percent) and adding staff (10 percent) were also among the priorities expressed. Only one percent indicated they would use the windfall to increase the salaries or benefits for staff members. In a companion survey of almost 1,200 Protestant lay people, the top three priorities for spending a windfall would be paying off debt (18 percent), increasing social programs (18 percent), and building, expanding, or updating church facilities (17 percent).

So... what would you do?

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May 9, 2006 in Trends in Today's Church | Permalink

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Is it just me or is there something not completely right about almost half of the pastors polled wanting to do some building project and less then 20% wishing to reach people for Christ? I know a church's facilities need to be attractive and up-to-date but when you reach people with the gospel and their lives change and they come to church, there always ends up being enough funds for expansion. I think our investment needs to be in people first and then facility will fall into place.

Posted by: Andy McAdams | May 9, 2006 9:44:11 AM

I have lurked here for many months and have enjoyed reading the articles. My husband is an SBC pastor of a small rural church. The timing of this article is incredible. This past sunday we celebrated our first Sunday back inside our newly renovated sanctuary. Our church received a large (to us) sum of money from a former member from long ago. She left the money for us in her estate. It was stipulated for use on the existing building. Our building was built in the 1850's! We really needed a new building! But we were able to do far more with the money because God stretched it and people were extremely generous! A lady donated the new carpet. We were able to install new lights, paint the peanut butter brown trim to bright white, replaced window shutters, and re-wallpapered the walls! We also expanded the platform area and moved the choir to behind the pulpit area.

This has given us the morale boost our church desperately needed! And it has been a tremendous lesson of faith to us and our people. God is able to do far more than we ever dream or imagine!

It is funny how it all started. We get the church mail at our house and it had piled up quite a bit. I was sorting through all the junk mail and saw an envelope that looked like junk mail. It was addressed to the former pastor. I about tossed it but something told me to open it. Come to find out, they had tried to send the check about three years before, but it had not been opened then since there was no pastor at that time. This was the last chance to redeem the money!

Check your junk mail closely! there just may be a check in one of them!

Posted by: JB | May 9, 2006 9:44:12 AM

Not much of a surprise to me... My own experience has shown me that buildings are usually #1 if there's no debt in the mix. It's a pity, though, that only 16% expressed an interest in increasing community evangelism activities.

Posted by: Chris Dillingham | May 9, 2006 11:17:32 AM

What's wrong with wanting to use extra money to fix up or update your buildings? If you can expand your current space where you have to have people crammed in for services in a place with peeling trim and poor utilites and make it a nice place for people to be comfortable when learning about the Lord, what is wrong with that?

And an updated building can increase community evangelism activities and help churches invest in others because they don't have to worry about a building that's going to fall to pieces.

Posted by: Sarangel | May 9, 2006 11:41:01 AM

I wonder if there's a posibility of looking more closely at the higher percentage of those who'd spend the money on facilities.
If we recieved such a gift, I'd certainly spend it on our facilities. They're a mess! At least a church built in 1850 has a chance at some historical charm (I'd love to see your church JB!) but when you're facilities are circa 1951...they just look (and smell) old! Roofs, heaters, AC's are all very expensive items but without them, who's gonna show?
At first glance, the survey & percentages suggest pastors (especially SBCers) have their priorities mixed up. But is that really the case? Are we being lead to make a generalization without all the information?
We know that mega/large churches make up only a tiny fraction of churches. They most likely have the people and financial resources to expand & maintain facilities. Meanwhile, the vast majority of churches are small and do not have the resources to make major repairs or upgrades much less needed expansions.
If the church needs to make repairs or upgrades or you're growing and need the space, yes spend it on facilities or invest in multisite venues or plant a new church. Otherwise, pour it back into missions, ministry or the community.
However, if you took the money and next Sunday the pastor, staff, deacons, elders and/or board members all showed up driving matching Hummers, I'd have some questions.
Ben E

Posted by: Ben E. | May 9, 2006 12:04:59 PM

This is a great question for church leaders to consider - and not just with a "windfall" in mind. (Let me suggest that a windfall is roughly the amount of your annual budget.)

First, every church needs to have a very conservative investment policy so that all assets of the church are relatively safe from loss. That means absolutely NO speculative investments, and probably no stocks, either. Cash and cash-equivalents, maybe with some fixed-income securities (e.g., bonds).

Second, every church should establish a financial plan that addresses both the short-term and the long-term needs and vision of the church. When gifts are received, evaluate them against the plan so you're not just responding to the needs of the moment. (Both your plan and your annual budget ought to include contingency funds, sort of like your family's emergency fund.)

Finally, clearly communicate the financial plan to the congregation - especially those most likely to include the church in estate gifts. If they believe in the vision of the church and trust the church's leadership while they're alive, their estate planning should reflect that. Encourage people not to designate gifts toward particular projects that may not be a priority when they die!

(E.g., one church I served received a $35,000 estate gift designated to "senior housing." The main problems were, first, that wasn't anywhere in the church's priorities; and second, in San Diego, $35k doesn't even get you a down-payment on a house. We spent more than five years trying to explore what could be done and how to honor the intent of the giver before we were finally able to reach an acceptable alternative with the Executor.)

P.S. Don't get trapped in thinking that money now needs to be spent now - even for debt reduction. (If you've got a 10-year loan at 4% but can invest a chunk of money at 6%, it may make sense to invest it.)

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 9, 2006 12:37:47 PM

I was on staff at a wealthy SBC church and we were given $1,000,000 at the end of the year. We debated as a staff how to spend it for months. We never did figure a good way to use it. Sometimes money is more of a hinderance than a help.

Posted by: Kevin Bussey | May 9, 2006 1:10:07 PM

Depending upon the amount it would be awesome to launch an another site and move into the multi-site model. If it was substantial enough it could allow the siteto start with momentum.

Posted by: kent | May 9, 2006 1:37:08 PM

My inclination is to think that if they are doing something with the money they currently have, they wouldn't do it with a large sum of money if they did get.

If they are not reaching out to lost people now, they won't really do it if they get a large sum of money. Consider that most churches spend 50-75% of their budget on buildings and staff costs. They think that is where they have to spend the money because those are the bills that take all the money. So rather than put the beast on a diet, they keep feeding it.

I wonder if this is anything like those people who win the lottery and within years are actually worse off than before they won the money?

Posted by: eric | May 9, 2006 4:31:55 PM

I would take care of orphans, widows, people in the congregation, and the STAFF. Without livable wages, how are we expected to make it??

Posted by: Neil | May 9, 2006 4:45:49 PM

I was shocked to read this. "Only one percent indicated they would use the windfall to increase the salaries or benefits for staff members." I think that's good in one sense, but bad in another that maybe some of those staffs DESERVE a raise!

And I also don't think it's such a bad thing that so many want to expand their facilities. They can be a great service to the community... Youth centers, stuff like that. Church buildings can be a very good thing!

Posted by: Peter Hamm | May 9, 2006 9:41:19 PM

Interesting. Our State Convention received a large give of $750,000 from an estate with two stipulations: start new churches and help struggling ones. The leadership put it in a trust fund and every year a team reviews requests and distributes grants to new church starts and churches in need of help in reaching their communities.

My experience with such surprises is that nearly all have been designated for buildings or other physical need (carpet, hymnals, etc). Should someone give a large gift to our church...yes since we are in the middle of a building project, we would build debt free and any left over would be invested in evangelism.

Posted by: Dan Moore | May 10, 2006 5:18:12 PM

Unfortunately, I'm not surprised by this, statement: "Only one percent indicated they would use the windfall to increase the salaries or benefits for staff members."
Don't get me wrong, I've worked in a church for 6 years and it's been a good experience and they really take care of me. Although, I feel that our staff could be paid more - especially the Pastors who have to "cope" with the stresses of the job! On the flip side, when ministers "sign up" for ministry, they know they won't be getting rich... But, I still believe that people who work in ministry should not be paid based upon their needs, but their value to the Body of Christ.

Posted by: Jelynda Simpson | May 10, 2006 6:32:51 PM

When our congregation was about 4 years old and growing very rapidly I was handed a check for over $800K. This was given as the result of the donor having made God a promise that hadn't been kept. The individual was suddenly motivated to keep the promise. The intent was to jumpstart a young, fledgling congregation. Interestingly, the check was made out to me to "do whatever I wanted to do with it, no questions asked."

Call me stupid, but I turned it down. My reasoning was it would strip a young congregation of any incentive to sacrifice. I also didn't know for sure at the time if I was being tested or if, having "paid God off," the donor might consider himself "squared up" with God and just disappear.

The outcome was the organization of a charitable foundation in which I was allowed to participate that gave away in excess of $7 million to church related ministries over the next 3 years. Additionally, the would-be donor gave considerably more to the congregation over the next 12 years, but in a graduated manner more representative of a legitimate tithe.

To this day I am so glad I didn't take the original "hook." No telling where it might have led.

Posted by: Dan S. | May 19, 2006 1:40:08 PM

Great story, Dan. I was agreeing with your original assessment ("stupid")...until I read the next paragraph. I'd love to hear the rest of the story on this: How did you turn it down? What did you say to the would-be donor? How did he respond? How did the rejected offer lead to the charitable foundation?

Certainly God could have done great things if you had accepted the offer, too, but it's cool to see how you handled this. Kudos and blessings!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | May 19, 2006 1:45:16 PM

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