Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Joel Morgan
Built in the mid-1960’s, the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church featured an understated cross in the front, 72 14ft long pews, a 35-foot high ceiling, and a Casavant Freres organ in the back. From the beginning, nearly every visitor commented on the immensity and simple beauty of the sacred space. The footprint of the sanctuary was 8,000 square feet and the congregation utilized it a little more than one hour a week.
Fast-forward to the early 2000’s. The congregation’s membership had declined significantly and the sanctuary was being used in the same way for the same amount of time each week. Under new pastoral leadership, the congregation initiated a new and different worship service in their fellowship hall while keeping the traditional worship in place. After a number of years, the worship service in the fellowship hall had a larger attendance than the worship held in the much larger sanctuary.
Other things had changed as well. In 2002, the entire church facility, some 36,000 square feet, had been quiet during the weekdays. By 2012, most of the facility was being used 6 days a week by 12-step groups, a Montessori school, neighborhood groups, and other non-profit organizations. The sanctuary was the only space that sat empty, except for that 1 hour on Sunday morning. The session and pastor often commented on how this seemed like poor stewardship–to have been given the gift of this space (the largest in the facility), but to barely use it.
Over that same 10 years, the congregation experienced a significant generational shift. In 2002, the congregation was made up of 70% retirees. In 2012, about 70% of the congregation was 45 years of age and younger. The congregation also moved from a $25,000 – $50,000 yearly deficit to a number of years with a surplus. Many attributed this financial shift to a right-sizing of the staff and a focus on preaching and teaching about stewardship year-round, such as hosting and leading numerous Financial Peace University classes. New members also received teaching about the expectations of members in terms of financial stewardship, instead of simply being handed a pledge card. There were other changes too, modeled on the stewardship practices extolled by J. Clif Christopher and others.
For over a decade, the pastor and session tossed around ideas about how to modify the sanctuary to make it more flexible and useful for all kinds of worship and other events, while keeping some of its character. No one seemed to have a good answer. With the fellowship hall filling to capacity on Sunday mornings, there was more talk about what the next step should be. The session decided it was time to consult an architect.
The architect led the congregation through a process of determining the best use of the entire facility. They worshipped with the congregation and completed some initial designs. A small group from the session worked with the architect to refine those ideas. Once they believed they had the “right” design, a cost estimate was completed.
The next question seemed to be obvious, “Can we raise the money for this project?” The question behind the question was, “Can we pull off a successful capital campaign?”
The congregation had done capital campaigns before, but the most recent one (20 years prior) had not gone well.
The session put together a task force to select a fundraising/capital campaign consultant to complete a feasibility study. This group interviewed 3 firms and chose Horizons Stewardship to complete the study. The task force chose Horizons based on a number of factors, with the most powerful one being that they were the only firm to talk about how a capital campaign should be a spiritual experience.
Horizon’s process for the study was straightforward and inclusive. There were personal interviews and an online survey of the congregation. Ultimately, the report from Horizons was positive. The consultant found the congregation supportive of congregational leadership and found the members were willing to support a capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary. The session voted to move forward.
One of the first tasks was selecting leadership for the capital campaign. Even with the full faith and support of the congregation, the capital campaign would not be successful without energized and committed leaders.
The wheels were set in motion. The congregation eagerly awaits the day when their beautiful 8,000 square foot sanctuary will be used more than one hour a week. Faith in God, generosity, and a successful capital campaign could make it possible.
The story of WPC’s capital campaign is not over. At the time of publication, WPC is in the final design phase before beginning the renovation, but that is another blog post (or two!).
A few observations from our experience:
- WPC had talked about renovating for years. We knew we needed more space for our informal worship service where we sit around tables and not in pews. We knew the chancel area needed to be larger to accommodate some of the worship dramas we did on a regular basis. We knew we needed a welcoming gathering area. It wasn’t until we really began thinking about it from a stewardship perspective (Are we being good stewards of the facility? Are we using it to its full potential for God’s mission? How can this bless the neighborhood?) that the idea grew in importance.
- Leadership. This is one of the underemphasized, but most important pieces of deciding to pursue a capital campaign. Does the congregation have full faith in the current leadership? Is there sufficient energy and other potential leaders in the congregation for this endeavor? We had a group of folks who not only committed for the six months of the “active” capital campaign, but said “yes” to three years of shepherding the congregation in the campaign. Amazing! But, without the energy of the Spirit, forget it.
- Pastoral leadership is critical. I know this isn’t a popular notion. Yes, all the Elders lead together. I believe this and teach this. I often say in our session meetings, “As the session goes, so goes the congregation.” However, in financial stewardship and capital campaigns, if the pastor(s) are not fully engaged and willing to lead, the efforts will fall short.
Joel Morgan has always been fascinated by the intersection of body, mind and spirit as well as how to sustain creativity, energy and vitality. He seeks to connect others with God’s love, grace and promise in Jesus Christ through preaching, teaching and coaching that marries real life with faith and practice. Joel has been the Pastor/Head of Staff of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA since 2002. He has a BS in Language Arts (English, Literature, and Theater) and a Masters of Divinity.