Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The NEXT Step - A Vision Worth Giving To

The church I serve has a long history of engaging in three year capital campaigns. In fact, by our 25th year, we were in our ninth campaign. If you are reasonably good at math, you can discern that we had some campaigns that overlapped others. There was a good reason to engage in those campaigns: The church was growing quickly and needed to build new facilities, which cost money. Unfortunately, the campaigns did not always raise enough money to cover the debt incurred by those facilities. As a result, when I arrived here nearly five years ago, we were $3.4M in debt and about to launch yet another capital campaign, which we did in the spring of 2010.

When that three year campaign ended, we still had $2.9M of debt and I began to wonder why we were doing this? If God’s people were to give faithfully and obediently, we would have enough funds to cover our debts and our ministry? I believe the answer to be “yes” – not just for our church, but for every church. The reality is that most people who call themselves Christians do not give biblically. Barna reports that only about 5% of adults “tithe,” with evangelicals leading the way by given a mean of $4260 per year to all non-profits. What that means, simply, is that most people do not give faithfully and obediently.

As we began to contemplate the “next” capital campaign, it became obvious to us that we did not have a money problem as much as we had a discipleship problem. We had a large number of believers who were spiritually immature in many areas, including the stewardship of their finances. We began to wonder: what if we tackle the real problem (spiritual immaturity) and not our pressing need (finances)? The issue came into focus for us when one of our Stewardship Team members asked the question: “if we had money in the bank and no debt, would we still do a capital campaign?” The answer was swift and obvious: No.

So, we began to think about how to tackle the real issue: spiritual immaturity. We concluded that most Christians want to grow in their faith, but simply do not know what they are supposed to do. Worse, too many think of spiritual growth has terribly complicated. While we acknowledge the fact that it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately is responsible for our sanctification (Phil 1:6), that does not mean that God has not called us to engage in certain activities that nurture growth (Phil 2:12). Our question then became: what are those activities?

What we discovered was not revolutionary or new. It was, in fact, very old. We concluded that there are at least six activities that should mark the life of every believer:
Prayer (Know)
Bible Reading / Study  (Grow)
Evangelism (Go)
Serving (Show)
Giving (Give)
Community (Belong)

Because it is daunting to try to tackle all six of these at once, we thought it best to encourage our folks to ask themselves: what is The NEXT Step for me in each area? We reminded them that no matter where you are in your journey with Christ, everyone has a “next” step.

In the fall of 2013 we launched an annual seven week emphasis called The NEXT Step. Each week we focused on one of the areas of spiritual discipline and the biblical call to commit to it. We concluded with a call to solidify our commitments by putting them in writing and publicly laying them at the altar. Over 50% of our congregation responded to this challenge.

Here’s the thing….The NEXT Step is not a one time thing. Spiritual commitments need to be revisited and reflected upon from time to time to make sure we are still moving forward in our faith. So, every fall at our church we will ask: what is The NEXT Step? Although the specific details around the emphasis may change a bit, the call to re-examine where we are in our walk with the Lord will remain. While it is still to early to announce exact results, we can say we have noticed more consistency and faithfulness from our people in the six areas of emphasis.

While there may be good reasons for churches to engage in three year capital campaigns, I wonder if we end up sending the wrong message. Obviously, if we have a new facility to construct, there is clear need to raise capital. But, more and more frequently, churches are using capital campaigns for debt reduction. For us, we became convinced that raising pledges every three years sent the wrong message to our church. We began to focus on paying bills and raising money and lost sight of our mission: to make disciples. We did not make the shift away from the triennial campaign without a lot of thought and reflection. But, once we did, we have not seen a decrease in our giving, which was one of our concerns. Rather, and more importantly, we have sent a clear message to our church that raising disciples is a greater priority for us than raising money. And, that is a vision that people support in every way, including financially.

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