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Five Common Mistakes Churches Make in Conducting Capital Campaigns
By: Derric Bakker

Is there a capital campaign in your church's future? Sooner or later, every church faces the need to raise money for facilities, whether to expand, renovate, or repair.

On one hand, the opportunity to shape the future of your church can be a blessing. When it comes to assuring the future of your church, few activities yield as significant an impact as a capital fundraising campaign.

At the same time, a capital campaign is also a great responsibility, and one misstep can set plans back years or lead to disagreements that can divide congregations. It is important to get it right.

Here are five common mistakes that churches make in conducting capital campaigns:

1. Leading without understanding

For a campaign to succeed, there must be unity behind the cause. It can be fatal to assume that just because the congregation voted for a project at a meeting they will also vote for it with their pocketbooks.

When considering a capital campaign, you need to take inventory of your congregation's financial capabilities and willingness to invest in your vision for the future. The best way to do this is by conducting a Congregational Readiness Study, a survey made available to every member of your church, allowing them to offer confidential comments, questions and concerns. It will also give you a barometer of how much financial gifting willingness you have available.

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?" - Luke 14:28.

2. Overlooking leadership giving opportunities

While all are created equal, Jesus' Parable of the Talents reminds us that each are entrusted with differing measures of talent and wealth. Some church members are blessed with substantial resources; others are simply in a stage of life that enables them to give more generously.

To succeed with your capital campaign, you will need to secure high-level gifts from these members of your congregation, and it would be a big mistake to assume that they will automatically pledge a major donation without careful approach from leaders of the church. You must invest time and effort into identifying and engaging the support of potential leadership-level financial partners early in the campaign.

Some may argue this places a higher value on wealthier congregants, but this is in fact a Biblical model of fundraising. In 1 Chronicles 29, David leads a capital campaign to fund construction of Solomon's Temple. He starts by making a generous leadership gift from his own resources, and then prompts the leaders of Israel to follow his lead and give their own major gifts. Once David and the leaders set the standard, the whole assembly responds by giving their own offerings.

3. Failing to plan

Nothing is more important to campaign success than a good plan…except executing that plan without a hitch. Campaigns are complex endeavors, with strict deadlines and little margin for error.

Plans must be drawn up, materials written and designed, media produced, sermons composed, committees recruited, leaders trained and solicited, events planned and organized…the list goes on. There are numerous moving parts, many requiring specialized skills, with tasks delegated amongst staff and volunteer members of the congregation who need to be carefully managed.

Done poorly, chaos reigns and campaigns fail. Done correctly, a well-managed plan allows the members of a church to truly act in concert as one body towards a single goal, as in 1 Corinthians 12:21 - "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" 

4. Not completing the work

Prayer is vital to a capital campaign, but prayer alone will not fund your goal. Sitting back hoping "God will provide" is not a workable approach. Make sure everyone in your congregation knows about your campaign, match your church members' talents with work that needs to be accomplished, communicate with people about investing funds the Lord has given them stewardship over and, of course, never stop praying while you are going about this work.

Nehemiah offers a clear illustration of the rhythm of prayer and action in a campaign. Upon learning the fate of Jerusalem Nehemiah prayed for days. Discerning God's call he then rose to action, raising resources and inspiring people around him to accomplish a great work. This pattern is repeated throughout Nehemiah—prayer first, then rising up to do the work.

5. Lack of follow-up

Reaching the commitment goal for your campaign is cause to celebrate, but it doesn't mean your work is done. A lot can happen in the two to four years between when you launch your campaign and when your members make their last pledge payment. It's a mistake to assume everyone will remember their commitments.

Without a follow-up plan in place, commitments will fade, and you will come up significantly short on cash. You must also "keep the campaign alive" through the pledge fulfillment period, so new money will offset shortfalls from those whose situations change, or who leave the church. For a capital campaign to succeed in the long run, you must finish strong.

Whether you are looking to raise money for expansion, renovation, debt reduction, missions, or any other purpose, a successful capital campaign can help your church take a substantial leap forward in the fulfillment of its God-given ministry.

Truth is, a capital campaign is probably one of the most complex initiatives your church will undertake. With so much at stake, most churches wisely choose to retain a capital campaign consulting firm to help avoid these types of mistakes and to guide their church capital campaign through to a successful completion.



Derric Bakker is president of Dickerson, Bakker & Associates, a capital campaign consulting firm that has helped guide hundreds of churches through successful capital campaigns since its founding in 1985, www.Dickerson-Bakker.com.









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