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.

Even if you know that there is consensus on the need for a campaign, setting a realistically achievable financial goal for a campaign can be tricky. 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 organization may be criticized for poor planning and their credibility may be diminished. 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 not fully ignite the excitement, momentum, and abundance of resources that come when a community collectively stretches to reach a bold vision.

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, and there are many factors that can affect the final goal. 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.

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. 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 about the campaign and significantly increases the likelihood that the campaign will be successful.

Congregational Readiness Studies

What is involved with a Congregational Readiness Study?
A Congregational Readiness Study is an optional tool available if you desire more input from your church membership prior to formally announcing the goal for the campaign. A study of this nature helps to determine the congregation’s perception of the need for the proposed project and campaign, their understanding of the finances involved, and their predisposition in regard to financial support for the campaign. The study itself consists of personal interviews with a select number of your congregation’s families who are in a stage of life and/or who have been blessed with a stronger ability to give and whose giving may therefore have a significant impact on the outcome of the campaign. In addition, an online survey will be provided to the remaining families of the congregation. Depending upon the size of your church, we may also recommend conducting a series of Focus Group meetings as part of the Congregational Readiness Study process.

Do you always recommend conducting a Congregational Readiness Study before launching a campaign?
No. In practice, somewhere between one-quarter and one-half of the churches we work with elect to conduct a Congregational Readiness Study in advance. There are times when we will strongly recommend a Study, but in most circumstances if it appears that there is an overall consensus in the congregation in support of the campaign, and if the goal for your campaign falls within normal standards for a church of your size and profile then we likely won’t recommend it for your church, unless your church leadership specifically asks to do one.

How long does it take to complete a Congregational Readiness Study?
Most can be completed within 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the size of the congregation and the availability of the study participants to schedule interviews.

Will a Congregational Readiness Study delay the start of our campaign?
Not necessarily. There are two options for timing the study relative to the campaign. The first is what we call a red-light/green-light scenario. If you are uncertain if your congregation will support the proposed campaign, then you should probably wait to even start making plans and preparations for your campaign until after the Study is complete. The second is the yellow-light scenario. In this instance you are likely confident that your church will go forward with a campaign, but you may want to complete a Study in order to help you determine an appropriate goal for the campaign, and/or to potentially help figure out the phasing of different parts of the project. In this case you can complete the Study at the same time that you are making other preparations for the campaign, and it is unlikely that the Study would significantly affect the overall timing of your campaign. 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.

How much does it cost to complete a Congregational Readiness Study?
It’s best to think of fundraising costs for a campaign much like you would other project fees, such what you need to pay for architects, contractors, etc. You pay them out of the project, not out of the church’s annual budget. In most cases the entire cost to complete a Capital Campaign at your church will be a fraction of the total campaign goal. In fact in most cases the total cost works out to less than 5¢ for every dollar raised, and sometimes much less. A Congregational Readiness Study will typically add less than 1¢ to your total fundraising cost per dollar raised. Given the fact that you typically have one chance to get it right, if you have any uncertainty about your campaign, investing that extra penny may make a lot of sense.