“We didn’t focus on debt or budgets or guilt”

Imagine being called as an associate pastor to a thriving, suburban congregation with a thousand members, an average worship attendance of 300; a congregation with a passion for serving the community and plenty of staff and resources. Then, imagine being called as a solo pastor to that same congregation some thirty years later. The congregation has completed an almost $2 million dollar renovation and is over $1 million dollars in debt. The local industry has closed its doors, members have left because of the local economy, and the congregation is spending about $12,000 each month to pay towards their debt. They have little left for ministry and mission. Welcome, the Rev. John Futterer to Kimball, Kannapolis, in 2016!

Pastor Futterer shared “Core leaders, members and I remembered the ‘glory days’ of the church and we went to work immediately upon my arrival. We hired a consultant (the Rev. Mike Ward), refinanced the loan, and embarked on a new stewardship plan. Using Stewardship for All Seasons we first looked at our fall stewardship campaign in a new and different way. Rather than focusing on debt or budgets or guilt, we focused on what ministries we might do with monies raised in the new calendar year. We identified— much to the congregation’s credit—needs outside our own congregation as our primary focus: a partnership with a new local elementary school with a decidedly low-income school population, the need for a new community playground in our downtown neighborhood, and building up our once strong youth program. Remarkably and, admittedly, a bit surprisingly for us, the campaign was a huge success! Then, we began to look at the debt which had been an albatross around the congregation’s neck for about ten years. What might we do if we didn’t have the burden of this debt holding us back? We identified goals both inside and outside the congregation and began our work.”

“At our initial meeting, our stewardship team identified that over a six-week period, raising $25,000 would be a worthy goal and would really put a dent in the debt. When I told Pastor Ward what we planned, he immediately said we should aim for $100,000 (an incredible sum for us, we thought, in just six weeks!). ‘You will get what you ask for!’ Pastor Ward told us. We followed the Stewardship for All Seasons plan for Capital Campaigns (modified by length), and raised OVER $112,000 in six weeks! We then received a $75,000 gift from a congregational member who appreciated the tone and tenor of our campaign, and a $100,000 gift from a friend of the congregation, who had received a letter and a brochure outlining the appeal. In short, during the 2018 calendar year, we raised/paid close to $400,000 toward the principal of the debt. We now have a date when we can completely retire this debt; it is a light at the end of the tunnel and one that is fast approaching!”

Likewise Good Shepherd, Elizabeth City, established in the early 2000’s with about 65 people at worship each weekend, suffered a significant congregational decline after moving into their new ministry center in 2010. Combined with a high debt load, the decline threatened to put the congregation in serious jeopardy. The Rev. Kim Carlson says, “In 2016, Stewardship for All Seasons helped us realize that the work of good financial stewardship starts long before the beginning of the annual fall stewardship appeal, and continues long after the pledges have been handed in. Using Stewardship for All Seasons, Good Shepherd has met its goals for increased giving for the past three years. We balanced our budget for the first time since moving into our ministry center in 2010, we’ve funded a variety of growing ministries, and weathered other economic challenges. Perhaps most importantly, we used the tools we learned to conduct a much-needed capital appeal in order to reduce our debt load.”

Twenty congregations in our synod have participated in Stewardship for All Seasons (SAS) led by Pastor Ward. Results have been very robust both in terms of new giving as well as transitioning culture from scarcity to abundance. Might you consider this for your congregation? Congregations that participate in SAS have seen on average at least a 15% increase in pledges over the previous year. While the cost of the program is $3,550 (which includes manuals, graphic design, and consultant), the synod provides a $1,000 grant to each congregation through the generosity of the synod’s Lifeline Fund, bringing the cost down to $2,550. Additional grants are also available. At the end of January 2019, Pastor Ward reported that twelve congregations have reported results including $689,000 net increase of intentions for annual funds to these 12 congregations plus $373,000 raised by these congregations for additional special appeals during the year. “In 2019, we expect to surpass $1 million in increased intentions to give to the annual ministry of these 20 congregations,” says Pastor Ward.

Pastor Jesse Caniff-Kuhn of Our Father, Greensboro, says “Historically, money has been a stressor in our congregation, and we’re used to ending the year in the red. With Stewardship for All Seasons, we not only grew our giving to the point where we fully funded the budget, but we also had money for new ministries and initiatives! It’s tremendously helped us to start to let go of a mentality of scarcity, and embrace the reality of God’s abundance in and around us.”

Pastor Carlson also shares, “Obviously, the return we have received on our investment in the Stewardship for all Seasons has been substantial and we are thankful for the difference it has made at Good Shepherd. As a pastoral leader, my dread of the annual fall stewardship appeal has been transformed into a time when I have the opportunity to share our congregation’s hopes and visions for the future along with the financial backing needed to turn vision into reality.”

“I have grown as a pastor through this process,” states Pastor Futterer. “Stewardship for All Seasons insists on the pastor being a leader in the stewardship process. While always being a reliable giver, thinking of myself as a leader in stewardship gave me the freedom to speak openly with others about their own giving, something I never thought I would be comfortable doing. I am most comfortable talking money, especially from the perspective of discussing what ministries we might yet begin or continue if our finances make it possible!” adds Pastor Futterer.

Congregations are turning scarcity into abundance, dread into joy, visions into reality, and guilt into generosity through an understanding that stewardship happens in all seasons; it’s not just a multi-week fall campaign. That’s living faithfully and giving joyfully!

For more information about Stewardship for All Seasons visit the synod’s webpage.

Photo credit: Laura Abernathy (Kimball, Kannapolis’ Community Playground Dedication, July, 2018)