Churches today are busier than ever. Growing up next door to a church, other than Sunday worship and Wednesday evening activities we pretty much had uninterrupted use of the parking lot for street hockey and pickup basketball. Does your church parking lot ever seem to empty out these days?
When it comes to figuring out the timing of your church’s next capital campaign, a church calendar jam-packed with year-round activities is only one of the challenges you will encounter. The question of “timing” is in fact not just one question but four, wrapped together into that one simple word:
- What time of year should we launch our church’s capital campaign?
- How much lead time will we need to plan and prepare in advance?
- How long will it take to complete our church capital campaign?
- How far ahead of when we plan to start building should we conduct our campaign?
Let’s unpack these one at a time.
When is the best time of year to launch a church capital campaign?
One concern we often encounter from churches considering a campaign is that “money” will be a constant theme at the forefront of their church the entire time they are involved with the campaign—which can be three years or more. Many are surprised to learn that the actual public presentation of a church capital campaign is typically only five weeks. But figuring out where those five weeks should land on your church calendar can get tricky. Let’s start by dispelling a myth: there is no “perfect” time of year to conduct a church capital campaign. But there are seasons to avoid. Thanksgiving through New Year should be avoided if possible, as well as summer vacations. The rest of the year is typically fine, as long as you pay attention to obvious dates such as Easter, Memorial Day, or Spring Break. It’s fine to run the five-week public presentation of your campaign across these breaks—but avoid scheduling milestone campaign events on those weekends. One additional consideration… Snowbelt churches with many members wintering elsewhere should plan accordingly, as should Sunbelt churches where those same snowbirds settle in for winter. Beyond these seasonal considerations, timing comes down to local factors, such as what else may be on your own church calendar, and how much time you will need to prepare.
How much lead time will we need to prepare for and plan our church capital campaign?
In planning your church’s upcoming capital campaign, you will do well to heed Proverbs 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty.” A productive church capital campaign involves many people conducting a well-orchestrated series of events and activities. We recommend getting your campaign consultant involved as early as possible, even before your congregation commits to a campaign. He or she can help you navigate all of the pre-planning that must occur: Is your church even ready for a campaign? Are the goals clear and worded in a way that motivates people? How do the financial needs match up with the project size and a realistic assessment of what a campaign would likely raise? For many a Congregational Readiness Study is an extremely helpful tool. The real work starts once your congregation or leadership formally commits to a campaign. Getting ready to launch the campaign publicly requires at least four months of advance preparation, but it’s better to allow for six months or more. Recruiting and training the right team members to lead the campaign is a critically important first step, and cannot be rushed. How long it takes to identify and recruit this team is one “X-factor” in the process. Ideally you can get it done within a month—especially if you’ve done a good job of pre-planning—but we’ve seen it go on for months. Once leadership is in place, figure it will take another three months to train and prepare them for their roles and responsibilities. Finally, in today’s environment churches are wise to set aside extra time during the advance phase of a campaign to give special attention to those members of the congregation who may be able to give at a high level. These major contributors can have a big impact on the outcome of your campaign but will require extra care and attention, often involving personal visits with the senior pastor or other key leaders. This process takes time; how much time will depend on how many you expect to need to see. Your consultant can help you make this determination.
How long will it take for our church to complete a capital campaign?
There are four questions a church must be prepared to answer before formally launching a campaign: What purpose (specifically) do we need the money for? How much will it cost to complete those plans? How much of that are we seeking to raise in a campaign? How will we finance the remainder? Once you are reasonably prepared to answer these four questions, then you are ready to “call the question” and launch your campaign. That’s when you begin the formal planning and preparation. In most cases you will need four to six months to put leadership in place and prepare to approach the congregation, perhaps more if extra time is needed to visit with major contributors. Once ready to launch, plan for at least five weeks to present the campaign to your entire congregation, culminating with a Commitment Weekend and a final celebration. You will probably ask for multi-year commitments, typically pledged over three years, and the campaign isn’t complete until the final pledge is collected. Don’t assume that people will faithfully give without reminders or updates—fulfillment of pledges requires diligent follow up to maintain the trust and attention of the givers. Keep the campaign going in the background with reports, encouraging stories, and timely reminders. Add it all up and from beginning to end a campaign is a multi-year commitment of time, attention, resources, and energy on behalf of the members of your church—not to be entered into lightly.
How far ahead of when we start construction should we begin a church capital campaign?
Churches often get too far ahead with building plans and wait too long before beginning a capital campaign. Most campaigns produce three-year commitments, which take time to be converted into cash. Not many building contractors accept being paid in pledges! Starting construction before your campaign is complete can be detrimental to fundraising, as people tend to think you must not need their money if the church has already decided to go ahead and build. Ideally, you should plan to start your campaign at least a year before you plan to begin construction. By starting your church’s capital campaign a year or more before construction, you will have more cash on hand when it comes time to put a shovel in the ground, and therefore may need to borrow less and/or may qualify for a better loan.
Timing is one of the most challenging issues churches face in planning a capital campaign, and you would be wise to engage professional counsel early in the process for assistance in avoiding pitfalls and navigating what can quickly become a puzzling path. 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 guide their church capital campaign through to a successful completion.