Beware of selling the Farm!

Written by Rod Irvine in category 
August 4, 2017
Holy Spirit Church has to make a major renovation. It involves air-conditioning the church, upgrading the hall and installing a new kitchen. The projected cost is $450,000, a significant sum for a church whose annual operating budget is $200,000. The board ponders the issue. Giving for the first six months is 5 percent under budget. What should they do? The church is freezing in winter and stifling in summer. The church hall is getting to be an embarrassment so the need is obvious. To most on the board the solution is also obvious. The church owned a second house, occasionally occupied when the church had a youth worker but now rented out. They would sell the house and use the proceeds to fund the new development.

Great Redeemer Church was centrally situated in a regional town that was experiencing considerable population growth. Numbers at church services were steadily increasing and the auditorium was ancient and obviously too small. The projected cost of a new worship centre was in the vicinity of $ 2 Million. The operating budget was $750,000. How could they fund the new centre? Again after wrestling with the problem in prayer and dialogue, the board thought the solution was evident. For as long as anyone could remember the church had owned a large block of land adjacent to the church, currently used as overflow parking at Christmas and other large services. This property was becoming increasingly valuable. Why not sell a large portion of this land and resourcing the new auditorium would be straightforward?
Giving Generously Farm landscape


The above examples are typical of decisions regularly being made by churches desiring to upgrade facilities or construct new buildings. Those decisions are often very ill-advised. I say often because there is no hard and fast rule and sometimes selling property is the only way to get a project up and going. I have known some outstanding ministers who have sold property for this purpose. But very often it is not the only way to proceed, and parishes sell valuable property in prime positions that they will never get back, in the process compromising future development.

In my book ‘Giving Generously: Resourcing Local Church Ministry’, I discuss conducting a capital campaign: one that involves sums in excess of the church’s annual budget. In my time at Figtree Anglican Church we conducted three such campaigns and they all were very fruitful. Under my successor Ian Barnett, Figtree church has now repaid a multimillion dollar loan that helped fund a wonderful auditorium. The Figtree project was so large it needed even more than capital campaigns could realistically raise.

Conducting a capital campaign is very daunting because of the large sums involved and because often ministers don’t know where to start. I completely understand this because I led the three campaigns mentioned and initially had no idea what to do. So if you read this and are feeling nervous, I totally empathise. However, there are many, many positives in attempting to raise the money.

 A successful church capital campaign is based around vision, mission, generosity and then asking for support sensitively and confidently. It is simply a marvellous opportunity to crystallise what your church stands for and where you are going, and to build faith and hope and generosity into the congregation. These are opportunities too good to be missed.

It may be necessary to sell property to fund future development, but I hope that ministers and boards will not make that their default option. At least give serious consideration to a capital campaign. Read my book, give it your best and most prayerful shot, and only consider selling the farm if the project is too enormous or the appeal is not supported.