Funding Church Growth: Five Ways to Expand a Church Without Expanding Debt
by Nathan Artt, on March 2019
Our team has worked with many of the fastest growing churches in the country, whose bursting attendance has led to a bursting budget, and often, an ever-increasing amount of debt.
And ironically, the typical church financial strategy behind a bursting attendance is also the key factor that threatens to undermine this explosive growth if not kept in check. “The emerging megachurch may be in the greatest economic danger,” Christian Standard reports, citing “the highest level of debt per person of any of the size categories.”
Our team at Ministry Solutions believes it doesn’t have to be this way. You can grow your church without growing an unhealthy level of debt. We believe it’s time to rethink church expansion, and our team has assembled these five considerations to help:
Chart a financial road map.
To paraphrase philosopher Francis Bacon, debt can be an incredible servant, but it is a terrible master. The difference has a lot to do with the strategic planning (or lack thereof) that goes into major spending decisions. The best strategy of how to get into debt is based on the strategy of how you are going to get out of debt. Think beyond the basics—how much you can borrow at what interest rate—and work on creating a financial strategy that allows your debt to work for you, and not you for your debt.
Have proactive conversations about money, not reactive.
If you don’t start the conversation about money, it will start the conversation with you. And the one who starts the conversation is the one in control. Too many churches fail to broach the subject until it’s too late. Why? Fear. In order to overcome this aversion, we must recognize that the conversation is ultimately not about money. As Jesus said, it’s about the heart (Matt. 6:24). Andy Stanley tells his congregation, “Generosity is something we want for you, not from you.” Generosity is a key attribute of a people who worship God above money, and a critical element to any church financial strategy. Talk about generosity before you need money, and when the opportunity to give big arises, the church will be prepared—even eager—to use their gifts in order to serve.
Your financial statements are the epilogue, but your data tells your story.
“You should borrow 1.5X, no 2.5X, no, 3X…” Sound financial practices involve more than just income, expenses, and other macro numbers. If you’re asking the church for $5 million, how much does that mean you’re asking from Jack and Lauren, a young couple who already contributes faithfully while living on a tight budget with three small children? A few large donors often help lead the way in any fundraising effort, but the small parts comprise the sum total of a church’s financial health. Dividing your grand totals—budget, debt, income—by the number of givers within your congregation will provide a much-needed reality check to inform major decisions.
Church construction budgets are not about real estate
We believe that project budgets are less about how much building you get for the dollar than they are about how much ministry capacity you create. Think of the ultimate project number in terms of how many seats, family ministry space, outreach, and overall ministry capacity you are creating. If you fail to create enough capacity for the dollar, you will likely be in 4-6 services and unable to expand because you are still paying for the last project’s debt load.
Don’t buy empty land.
Want to complete a $20 million building project for less than $10 million? Want to have $20 million worth of a worship center for $10 million or less? Land development is your absolute last resort! A glut of vacant industrial, warehouse, or retail properties in many areas are ready and waiting to be adapted and repurposed for the church. In 2018, retail is likely going to get hit hard which will create even more opportunities for these types of properties. Likewise, many established churches may be willing to merge with up-and-comers, combining assets and maturity with cash and people for a joint effort that helps sustain both congregations as one. In either scenario, acquiring an existing facility can yield the same parking, the same square footage, and the same acreage for less than half the price of what it would cost to build from the ground up. This saves both money and time, which means that you get into the property and pay for the property more quickly.
We are not suggesting that savvy business practices outweigh faith in God’s provision and obedience to God’s direction. But we are called to operate as wise stewards of the resources entrusted to us. To quote C.S. Lewis, we are called to the faith of a child and the brain of an adult. Too many pastors interpret a season of growth as a mandate to spend whatever it takes to construct a small empire. Realizing your God-given vision requires an honest assessment of God’s calling and your church’s capacity, tempered with the wisdom of Scripture, and informed by a good strategy for how you plan to pay for it all when the note comes due.
Our goal at Ministry Solutions is to create a clear path forward for growth. Our team developed a Clear Path Analysis that helps your church be in the best position to fund the right project, faster, and say yes to growth! We would love to offer this free analysis to help your ministry understand the best approach to navigate explosive growth.