For churches contemplating building projects, St Albans Baptist Church Senior Pastor John Alpe encourages you to believe that Jesus can take you through the whole process and out the other side, ending up with stunning facilities, yet no debt. In the belief that God wants to help you through their experience, he offers the following comments.
Earlier this year we at St Albans Baptist opened our rebuilt church auditorium damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. It is a stunning auditorium now, where once it was very average. The opening was an amazing day that gave glory to God for his goodness to us.
The external walls of the building are the same as before, but everything else is new. To repair it and make the changes we wanted, we had to find another $500,000 on top of the insurance money. This building programme came just six years after we completed our previous building programme of $1.45 million, that saw the addition of five new lounges, a large commercial kitchen and an office administration area for church and trust staff.
The amazing thing, for which God gets all the glory, is that our first building programme was completed with no mortgage. In fact, when the last bill was paid, we had over $25,000 in the bank! This latest build, although all the bills and all the giving have not yet been received, looks on track to be a similar result. That’s what I’m believing God for!
This remarkable giving by our church has been in spite of the Global Financial Crisis and the two Christchurch earthquakes. It’s also in spite of the fact that, in the last twenty years, the previous largest offering the church had raised was $16,000.
Earthquakes bring upheaval in more than one way and many people have shifted away following the quakes, yet our general offerings and building offerings have never dipped! Truly only Jesus could enable a relatively small community of people to be so generous. The first building programme was financed by about seventy-two givers, singles or couples.
Encouragement not condemnation
I know God leads differently in each circumstance, so I am just going to share with you how God has led us. I have noticed many churches have engaged in building programmes, but have ended up with large mortgages, sometimes leaving the church financially vulnerable for the next decade. This is why I would like to share some thoughts on how we were able to build without ending up with a mortgage.
Two things must be built simultaneously
A culture of generosity must be built into the church. Secondly, you must have a building plan and team with exceptional skills to outwork it.
A culture of generosity
This aspect is often underestimated in the euphoria of a new building project. However, of these two aspects, I believe building the culture that sustains a generous heart in the church is the most necessary.
For a church to go above and beyond with their giving, it must first be meeting the ordinary church budget, with surpluses. Without this kind of heart for the local church being evidenced, it is perhaps unrealistic to think people will believe in the vision enough to give significantly above the tithe for two to three years, to complete the project.
Initially, with a good and necessary project, most people will have faith that it should happen… but they will probably believe someone else should pay for it. In other words, they have no personal ownership in the project and any ‘Yes, let’s do it’ vote is not yet bankable.
In my experience, building a generous culture in a church takes a minimum of nine months to a year, working through a carefully planned strategy.
If a church isn’t meeting budget and most people aren’t giving generously around a tenth of their income, then I would suggest that this becomes the place to start.
When the children of Israel entered the promised land, they met giants. We know the stories, and we are familiar with the typology of the promised land illustrating our Christian lives. But how many of us as leaders have slain the ‘money giant’? The giant that shouts: “Money is your god. You must serve it, hoard it, hold on to it, because without it you will lose in life!” In contrast to this is Jesus’ teaching that money is a tool to be used. Our part is to use our income and savings in a generous manner.
As I look around, I suspect many pastors have not yet slain the money giant. Some are living in fear of it, intimidated by its every gesture. Possibly they haven’t experienced personal breakthrough or seen breakthrough in their church finances.
As a pastor, I have found that you have to break through with the church in the area of ‘ordinary’ giving, before you can take a church into the prospect of ‘extraordinary’ giving, where people give above and beyond what they have ever given before.
At St Albans Baptist Church, we broke through in the ordinary, and the building project extraordinary became an adventure. We had many couples testifying that they were scared to give so many thousands, yet because both husband and wife had heard God say the same amount to each of them personally, they were actually excited to give because of what might happen next. Most people gave thousands, and many folk tens of thousands, to enable this incredible building to be built. I even know people who gave close to a year’s salary!
Pastors, in my experience, your ability to speak to the vision and call people to action rises exponentially when inwardly you are completely sold out yourself!
Many strategies can be developed for extraordinary giving once you have broken through in ordinary giving first. More about those strategies at another time.
An excellent plan and an excellent team.
This aspect also requires much preparation. We literally talked to every youth and adult in the church to find their opinion about what they thought should be built. No one was left out. We drew up a building plan comprising everything people wanted, and had it costed. It was far too expensive, being way beyond the figure God had spoken to me about. Our way through that was a business meeting where we agreed we would design something with the best of what everyone wanted, but one that was not such a large step of faith. Suddenly we had everyone’s support.
As pastor, I knew I didn’t have the skills to manage and drive such a project. We assembled a highly skilled and experienced team, who have had a ball bringing the two projects to fruition. God then picked out the team leader, a man who was much too busy for me to ask him, but he received a vision where Jesus instructed him to give his time and expertise.
The Old Testament talks of priests and kings working together. This is one of those times when pastors need to trust the wisdom and expertise of the key business people in the church; they are your modern-day kings.
The starter’s gun!
Lastly, I believe the most important aspect in a debt-free building programme is the pastor hearing Jesus say, “Begin.” Pastor Paul Edlin taught me this, following his remarkable building programme in Wainuiomata. I believe having the impression that you should build is not enough. Similarly having the elders and church on board and keen to begin is not enough either. I think these things are signs that God is in it, getting things ready, but for me the crucial thing is praying and listening until the Holy Spirit speaks directly, saying, “Begin now.”
At that point, not only press go, but do exactly what he tells you to do! Paul was told to go and ask someone in the congregation for $300,000! In faith, shaking at the knees, he did, and remarkably that exact amount of money was given.
My experience is that what God commissions, he pays for. Conversely, I don’t believe God feels compelled to pay completely for what we commission, or where we rush ahead of him in timing or commit to build more than what he instructed.
In both our builds, I clearly heard the Holy Spirit say, “Begin now!” I captured those words, wrote them down, believed them and shared them with the congregation, and we began. The miracles and faith flowed from what Jesus had spoken.
I praise God for what has happened for us. I pray our experience can help and inspire you in your following of our Lord.
Story: John Alpe
John is Senior Pastor of St Albans Baptist Church
Photo credit: John Scott