An Open Letter Regarding Trinity's 2016 Capital Campaign
An Open Letter Regarding Trinity’s 2016 Capital Campaign – from Tim Rice, Lead Pastor
The 2016 Capital Campaign
For many at Trinity, you may have little idea that just over a year ago we hired a consulting firm. Our leaders wanted help assessing whether or not we were ready to undertake a fund-raising effort to fund comprehensive renovations for our facility.
Early architectural concepts had our costs near $4 million as we would build out 12,000 square feet upstairs that is currently gutted and unusable; we would bring our entire facility up to American Disabilities Act standards (about $1.2 million alone for that), and we would completely overhaul the middle section of our facility (where currently our coffee area and children’s section is). We hired a consulting firm because we had never conducted so large of a project, plus the consultants came highly recommended for other work they had conducted with churches and even locally with Lakeland Christian School.
Their basic goal was to conduct a congregational readiness survey. Their staff conducted this series of interviews, talking personally or in groups with over 75 different people from Trinity. Over the span of a few days their desire was to assess our health as a ministry and the readiness of our people to support so large of a renovation effort.
As I conveyed in my comments yesterday morning at worship, some people had a bad experience. How did this happen? I think simply, what took place last year was not in keeping with our own values and I am responsible. So I want to apologize.
First, I was not alert to what our consultants were intending. I was surprised because in the description of their work, our consultants had not made clear to me that they would be asking our people about financial pledges. Their language of readiness survey – to my thinking – carried much more of a tone of assessing our ministries, our effectiveness, and our impact with our people. But actually, their standard practice was to include in their interviews, questions about financial pledges. And I missed it. What we had imagined in a project was outside the heart of what our people wanted most.
Second, some of our people (quite understandably) were just caught off guard. Our culture has been very candid, even blunt in some ways, and yet hired consultants had spoken with our members about financial pledges when our own leaders had not. It seemed incongruent.
Third, others in our congregation felt left out. Because our consultants selected a sampling of people from Trinity, they never sought to talk with everyone. This selectivity offended others.
Finally, I realize (now with clear hindsight) that I did not lead us to understand the need for the entire project. Our leaders did not tell the story well of what we were considering. I did not understand the good order (the sequence) of when our consultants would be helpful. The right sequence matters in many things. We believe marriage comes before parenthood. We believe that work comes before play. And in this case, I did not grasp the proper sequence of what work we needed to do before our consultants would be most helpful.
Still, taken together, this process did produce for us invaluable lessons. God really does work together all things for our good. First, we learned that our ministries were healthy in many ways, but we also learned clearly that our congregation was not in support of our renovation plans. We also learned that our communication had been significantly ineffective. And as a result we had undercut trust with our people.
Therefore, our leadership has spent the last year going back to basics and earnestly working to address these concerns.
We did not communicate effectively the last campaign to the congregation, either the original idea, or our decision to not continue with that project. So in view of what took place last year, it does make sense that to take up the goal again of addressing needs in our building has alarmed some people in our church.
All I can offer is that this new effort is not a resurrection of last year’s plan. What we considered last year was a massive renovation of our entire facility. This year, we’re looking only to address basic repairs and maintenance. Last year, the renovation plans were approximately $4 million. This year’s plan is an estimated $957,000. What we learned from last year’s mistakes have helped us to discern much more clearly what you want. And our leaders have listened!
Trinity’s Financial Position
In addition to concerns from last year, some people also have been alarmed at our finances. I believe most of this stems from our cash position at the end of 2016. Some people have used the word “failing” to describe how they view our cash position. Others have used terms like “reckless” or “irresponsible.”
I want to provide background and my own opinion. The background is that we always have had thorough controls and reporting for our finances and they are open to anyone. But they have not been communicated well – and our leaders have worked to do what we can to improve our cash position since last year.
Our finances are overseen by a volunteer team. In every new members class I carefully cover how every expenditure is processed by two signatures. All financial receipts and expenses are reviewed at least monthly by our Operations Team – a team of volunteers that includes officers, members, and a CPA.
It’s clear – we have not kept you up on our needs. Clearly, we have an old building, and repairs or maintenance need to happen regularly. In the past, as we had repairs to make, instead of going into debt, with several years of excess revenues, our leaders paid for repairs out of cash. There has never been any breach of our protocols, or any kind of misappropriation. Our elders approved every single financial decision we made. But we did not communicate that well, and I am sorry.
My opinion is tempered by comparisons with several other ministries that I respect. I know of a large church in our denomination that aggressively supports church plants throughout the world. When some significant donors moved out of their area they had to cut staff salaries in order to sustain their ministry priorities. I know of a close friend to our church who had to reach out to friends and other churches for financial help so that their church could make payroll. And I know of many churches or ministries who have faced financial reversals. Thankfully though, we have never even come close to such a situation.
Historically, as we have (to quote a close friend) “planted churches like crazy,” our donor base has grown. I believe God has blessed us plain and simple. And so many of our Trinity families give so generously to so many other causes and ministries, I believe we could ask for help if we truly needed it. But we finished 2016 with approximately $100,000 in the bank. In good conscience, I would not ask you for more money because our reserves were lower than we may prefer.
My opinion is that if it was an emergency, we would ask for help. As it was, I saw this as only a cautionary place to be. And this is likely the rub – my opinion clashes with some of your opinions. I have not been alarmed while others have. If our people had not proven to be so generous, I might be alarmed. But they have proven to be so extraordinarily giving! And I have not been scared. Like King David said, “I am old and I have been young, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.”
God has given us every dollar we have. And He has blessed us amazingly. And our cash position has increased from where we ended the year, 2016.
Now, to encourage you – if you really would like for us to have more cash reserves – our budget process for 2017 revealed a sizable voice in our body to improve this cash balance. So our elders have listened and we re-drafted our 2017 budget to plan in a savings strategy to systematically grow our cash reserves until we can save up 3 months worth of expenses.
I am glad to have such a plan. And please don’t confuse my lack of alarm with indifference! I am just keenly aware that a church is not really like many other businesses. We do not have predictable income. We do plan for predictable expenses – and yet we’re always ready to reduce expenses to be sure that we spend less than we receive. We want to be faithful stewards of how God has been generous to us through you. As all of our leaders believe that our church corporately is just as responsible to be faithful as each of you personally.
I do not want confusion about last year to obscure what we hope to do now. We did not clearly communicate our need to fix our building, but we want to do just that going forward. Again, some people have had a bad experience – and I am truly sorry.
I am available to talk personally with anyone about these matters, especially if you’re offended. Jesus has told us how to handle disagreements; we go to one another. So if I have offended you, I am eager to talk through this and hear your heart.
There’s no way to effectively answer all aspects of these questions by a letter, so I, and our financial team leaders, are open for personal conversations.
We want to love you well by listening well, communicating to the best of our ability, and faithfully stewarding whatever is entrusted to us.
And at the end of every need that we communicate, all of this is asking – not demanding. “No” is a completely acceptable answer. As we read yesterday in worship, from 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Personally, my entire family has lived dependent upon your generosity, and we have been blessed beyond words. Thank you for your heart for the Lord, for us personally, and for the cause of Christ advancing in our city!