Don't Be Afraid to Say "Campaign"!

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "campaign"? Politics? The military? Or, do you think of money, as "campaign" is often paired with "capital"? Many churches resist considering capital campaigns as they involve money and are a lot of hard work. Luckily we found several Moravians eager to talk about their recent experiences with capital campaigns for their churches, or, in the case of one, for Laurel Ridge Moravian Camp in the Southern Province. An article about these conversations will be published in an upcoming issue of The Moravian magazine, but we're excited to give you a preview of them on our website over the next few weeks.

First we spoke with Rev. Kurt Liebenow, pastor of Christian Faith Moravian Church in DeForest, Wisconsin. The church recently completed an accessibility project (click here to see a summary) and their story is an inspiration to any congregation who thinks they are too small or it's a bad time to raise funds for a capital campaign.

1. What were you raising money for?

Accessibility. Narthex addition oriented towards parking lot, went from one to 3 classrooms and 2 closet-sized bathrooms to 3 accessible bathrooms (one on each level), and added an elevator. Only thing we didn’t get to do was repave lower parking lot.

2. What was the original goal?

It was a $400,000 project. Construction started in November; it took 5 months to finish (which was a little longer than expected but we never missed worship in our Sanctuary).

3. How did the campaign begin?

We began receiving gifts into our Building Fund as early as the Fall of 2009; the capital campaign officially began in January 2013 and we had a pledge that May. Once we had the schematic design and started moving forward, our regular monthly giving to the Building Fund went from $500/month to $1500/month. People started giving and the general plate offerings went up. I told the congregation if they’re already giving $100, and they give $80 to the Building Fund and $20 to church, it won’t work.

Motivitation was a no brainer; the congregation has been wanting accessibility since 1980. I came in 2005 and that was what I heard. 2006 was our first capital campaign; I think God was testing us with that. I was part-time when I was hired; we had to look at the roof right away. The church’s annual budget was $90,000; it would be $30,000 for the roof. The Trustees got bids, took it to church council, and the council said yes. Chi-Chi from the Moravian Ministries Foundation helped with the campaign: she got the word out to folks. By August we had raised $42,000 so we had seed money for accessibility. Two years later we had to replace the furnaces, which was $7,500; we raised that money as well. The smaller projects got members thinking about what they could do. I have a background in architecture so I knew it would be a half million for an accessibility project; you can’t just put an elevator in. I knew we’d have to have an addition.

To do a major capital project, the pastor needs to be fulltime and the annual budget needs to be met; we were able to get to those points. I asked the Trustees about accumulating resources for an accessibility project; they gave me the green light. In late 2009 I asked if in addition to their regular giving, people would go ahead and start making extra contributions to the Building Fund. There was no plan in place yet. We wanted to have something in savings to begin with and a regular pattern of giving. We knew we’d need a loan so it was important to have confidence in what kind of money was coming in. We did this for a year and a half; we got about $500 a month for the project without knowing what it was.

With the economy slowing, we knew it would be a good time to do the project as contractors wanted work and we could get lower bids; the congregation agreed. We took it slowly: first met with an architect to come up with the design and then the whole congregation made suggestions for who to put on the committee. Our joint board took the list and selected the group (building committee, chair person and secretary). I made it clear I wasn’t going to be the chair of the committee. We had the right person at the right time: a member who had worked for the state overseeing building projects was able to help.

I sat in on meetings (fundraising and building committees) but I didn’t have a vote. I helped with the decision-making but I was able to step back and let the church members do the work.

We are a smaller congregation and we knew we wanted to be able to go to everyone and talk about the project; however, no one felt comfortable leading a conversation about fundraising. Chi-Chi had been out for our roof project so people were familiar with her. We looked at a couple of other agencies and interviewed a few folks but we liked the MMFA because they tailored the work to what our church really needed. The MMFA felt like “us”.

4. What was the biggest challenge you faced during the campaign? Worrying about if we could really do it. Knowing we’d have to borrow money. The Province allows a certain amount of debt per member and the project was 4 times our annual income. That was uncomfortable. But people are so happy with the results. We’re able to host events we couldn’t host before. The Moravian women have salad luncheon but they had to have elsewhere in our community because we couldn’t accommodate everyone (some attendees are handicapped). We had one before the construction and put tables upstairs for folks who couldn’t get downstairs. We had to call an ambulance because one woman fell trying to get downstairs as everyone wanted to be together and that woman wasn’t even a member of our church. We’re able to host area Moravian events now. We have a 92 year old member in a wheelchair who would allow men to carry her downstairs for events but she couldn’t use the bathroom once down there as it wasn’t accessible. We also had people who couldn’t come to church to worship because they couldn’t use the bathroom.

5. What was a memorable moment during the campaign?

Pledge Sunday. People put dollars on the line and made commitments. We saw the amount that came in and were reassured about undertaking the campaign and project. Also, the building committee had been working with the architect for about a year (we did the schematic and waited to get funding together), they had gone through construction documents and gotten bids, and then someone said, “What do we do next?” And the answer was, “We start the project.” It felt really strange to finally begin. We also had a ribbon-cutting around elevator and a consecration service. We took one of the old handrails and had it cut into small medallions and then put a picture of the church on it and had someone laminate them (like a wooden nickel token). Since it was an accessibility project it was neat to cut up the old handrails and use them as a way to say thank-you to our members.

6. How did you communicate the campaign’s progress with the church leadership and the congregation? We had church council meetings throughout to make sure the whole congregation was ok with what was going on. We talked about the funding pledged, the loans we could secure, and what it would mean for the congregation. We shared the schematic design, the next phase of the architect’s work, the construction documents, and got approval to pull the trigger. We were as transparent as possible about everything. We also had the congregation write down the names of who would be good to serve on the building and fundraising committees so everyone would have input; we wanted a cross-section of the whole congregation so everyone felt like someone represented his or her viewpoint.

7. How did chairing the campaign strengthen your relationship with church members? We had to work a lot together; it was a unifying and cooperative effort. A lot of people were involved in a lot of different ways. I used the Romans text on spiritual gifts, focusing on who is able to do what. We celebrated what everyone had to offer, those contributions besides finances like prayer and ideas. Everyone had ownership. I felt comfortable with my role as pastor…I was able to affirm neutrally.

8. What advice would you give someone who is going to chair a campaign or other pastors whose churches are considering a campaign? Do it because it will facilitate ministry. Look at what your ministry needs are and show folks what the church would be like if it could change or improve. Encourage members to continue their level of giving even after the campaign is over; designate the extra money to mission or another cause. Give people a target.