Funding the Vision to Build

Published on: March 1, 2014

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Unity of Charlottesville (UOC), Va., moved into our newly built 12,800-square-foot church on October 8, 2006, exactly five years after we began our ministry here. Now, more than seven years later, we’ve been asked to reflect on lessons learned.

It’s clear to my wife and co-minister, Patricia, and I that we couldn’t have built a church without a capital campaign. Prior to our arrival in Charlottesville, our community had been trying for over 15 years and failed. Our board of trustees did its due diligence and conducted three personal interviews with representatives of companies specializing in church fundraising. There are many companies who do this work if you search for “church fundraising” online.

Since all three companies had basically the same formulaic approach to fundraising, we did our prayer and spiritual discernment and chose the person whom, we felt, most resonated with our vision. This same man, Scott McKenzie, now with Horizons Stewardship, has recently completed successful capital campaigns for the two Unity centers in Richmond, Va.: Unity Christ Church Bon Air and Unity of Richmond.

The process, of course, begins with a strong, clear, and compelling vision and intention from your congregation and leadership teams. Next is the feasibility study. Based on private interviews with the highest donors, the consultant will determine if there is enough seed money and financial support to see the project through. You and your leadership team will be asked not only to make a substantial financial commitment, but to also be willing to reveal the amount you’re willing to donate: leadership by example.

Your congregation will do the actual groundwork, and many teams are needed to make your capital campaign successful. Teams include: media and communication, prayer, hosts for home gatherings, special event teams, celebration teams and more. Obviously, the more congregational support, the more successful the campaign.

In our case, we had a green light to proceed and the expectation of raising a minimum of $500,000-$600,000. We actually had $746,000 pledged and raised over $1 million. Results in Richmond were similar. At Unity Christ Church Bon Air with Rev Joyce Fisher Pierce as senior minister, the goal for building a new church was $1 million. The feasibility study suggested a target of $500,000-$700,000. To date, they have received over $1.2 million in donations and have completed their building with a $750,000 mortgage.

Revs Richard and Vicki Bunch, co-ministers at Unity of Richmond, were told that they could expect to raise $600,000 for an extensive remodeling of their existing church building. They received $580,000 in pledges and were able to begin construction within the first six months of their capital campaign. In fact, their bank gave them their loan even before the first dollar was raised, simply based on pledges.

What have we learned? For our community, the decision to build meant taking on a $1.2 million mortgage. While we’ve been able to refinance this loan twice with a current low interest of 3.55%, we still hold a balance of $980,000. This has been a sizable amount of money to pay each month (over $6,300 per month) and continues to strain our finances.

I’d like to say that if we were to do it all over again, we would have more money inhand before we began construction and would have a significantly lower mortgage. However, having our own church has meant that we could really implement our collective mission and vision and offer classes, programs and events that would not have been possible in rented space.

Rev Joyce has no regrets about the capital campaign process. Her advice is to be completely open and deeply listen to Spirit. At her church, the initial designs were about remodeling, not rebuilding. After she became open to building a new church, the process—and the funds—became much easier and more flowing.

Revs Richard and Vicki caution that the capital campaign adversely affected their operating budget for the first eighteen months. Even though a fundamental axiom of a capital campaign is to give “over and above your gifts and tithes to the operating fund,” in reality, people tend to adjust their giving to support the building project at the expense of the operating fund. We had a similar experience in Charlottesville. Above all, stay prayed up and rested up. Manifesting the space you dream of to do God’s work is richly rewarding—and challenging, too.

To contact Scott McKenzie of Horizons Stewardship, call 717.880.8229.


Don Lansky
Rev Don Lansky has been co-minister of Unity of Charlottesville, Va., with his wife Patricia Gulino Lansky since October 2001.

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