There are many decisions to be made when planning a capital campaign at your church. A few are so critical that they can make or break the success of your campaign before you even get started.

For most people, success or failure boils down to one question: “Did we meet our goal?” Hence goal-setting is one the most important decisions you will make. Selecting an appropriate goal can be tricky, however. Set it too high and you risk falling short. Plans may have to be postponed or redrawn, which can cause disappointment and frustration. The leadership of the church may be blamed for poor planning and their credibility may suffer. Set it too low, on the other hand, and you run a risk that people may not be motivated to give to their full potential and you may sacrifice the excitement, momentum, and abundance of resources that come when a community collectively stretches to reach a bold vision.

So how do you go about selecting the “right” goal for your campaign?

How NOT to do it
Before we look at how best to set a goal, let’s first look at some ways NOT to do it:

  • Never set a campaign goal based on projected costs. Many times a building committee will draw up plans, affix a price to those plans, and that becomes the goal. Project costs have nothing to do with what might be raised in a campaign. Nothing takes the wind out of sails faster than scaling back a vision, especially if you couldn’t afford it in the first place.
  • Don’t simply trust someone’s say-so. Sometimes a charismatic leader with a strong personality can be so caught up with his or her vision that everyone else just falls in line. You can and should rely on the instincts of church leaders as part of the goal-setting process, but instincts are only a part of the equation, and should not be the over-riding factor.
  • Don’t fall for contrived assumptions that “God will provide”. If you prayerfully seek God’s guidance, you must trust Him to make His will known amongst His people. He doesn’t need others wielding piety like a club, implying that those who question the ambitiousness of a goal lack faith. Heed the words of Jesus in Luke 14:28, “”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?”
  • Don’t be tempted to “do the math”. In almost every campaign someone will suggest a goal that can be easily divided, advocating for everyone to just give an equal amount. “We have 250 families in the church. If everyone will just pledge to give $3000 over the next three years then we’ll raise $750,000 and it will be done!” People will be naturally drawn to this seemingly common-sense approach, but it’s been tried many times before and is guaranteed to put you on a fast track to failure.

Our firm has nearly three decades of experience helping hundreds of churches of every size and type raise hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns. When we work with a church, we typically utilize one of two methods to help them set a realistic, attainable goal for their campaign:

Benchmarks and Standards
Churches have been conducting capital campaigns for almost as long as churches have had buildings. With data now available on thousands of campaigns, certain benchmarks and standards have emerged. Most churches can typically raise somewhere between one and two-and-a-half times annual income over the course of a three-year campaign. Where a church lands on this scale will depend on many factors. A campaign for debt reduction or repairs tends not to motivate people to give to the same extent as a new building or an addition. Demographics make a difference too. Younger families with less disposable income typically are able to give less than older congregants who are in a different season of life. Some churches also have more wealthy members than others. All of these factors have an impact, but the last two in particular will make the most difference in the outcome.

It’s important to remember that this is only a general guideline. Many churches have raised five or even ten times annual income. A small number of major gifts can skew the outcome significantly. Pastors often tell us they don’t have many wealthy people in their congregation, but many are surprised to discover they were wrong. In every church there are often a handful of people who have been blessed with an extraordinary ability to give at a high level. If handled correctly, these congregants can help your church achieve a campaign goal far beyond your expectations.

Congregational Readiness Study
Sometimes it can be difficult for a church to reach consensus on a campaign. Sometimes it is unclear whether the congregation fully supports the project. Sometimes the leadership simply wants more objective data to help make an informed decision. In these cases a Congregational Readiness Study can be a very helpful tool. A Readiness Study involves conducting a series of interviews with a select number of your congregation’s families who may be able to give significant time, money, or influence to the campaign, as well as completion of a survey by the remaining families in the congregation. By going through this process, you ensure that every member of the church has opportunity to have their voice heard and to indicate the degree to which they are willing to give. It provides objective data to the leadership of the church to assist in making critical decisions to determine a realistic goal for the campaign and significantly increases the likelihood that the campaign will be successful.
No matter what method your church ultimately uses to arrive at a goal for your campaign, it’s important to remember that there is no exact way to do it that will guarantee an outcome. Ultimately the result is in God’s hands, so be sure to seek His direction and wrap your campaign in prayer.

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