A Capital Campaign We Will Not Soon Forget

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A few years ago our church was about to launch a capital campaign when we lost our beloved Senior Pastor of twenty-two years who lost the battle with an aggressive form of cancer. As a result of Rev. J. David Panther’s caring hand and faithful leadership, our church grew from 200 in weekly worship attendance to 1,500. The congregation trusted him, believed in him, and followed his guidance. After his death, we had to evaluate if we should continue with our campaign? If so, how should we launch it while also being sensitive to the needs of our grieving congregation?

As the Executive Director for the church, I was nervous to move forward without a good vision, a strong foundation for the project, and a season of intentional prayer. Our leadership team knew that the needs that the capital campaigns were real, but we were unsure about how to move forward in the midst of a pastoral transition. A wise consultant helped our team discern whether or not our congregation was ready to move forward. These were the questions he asked:

  • Do you have enough buy-in from the congregation? Does the congregation perceive the need is real? Do they support the project even after the loss of their long-time pastor?
  • Will members of the congregation stay in the aftermath of such a loss? Are they committed to the church?
  • Does the newly appointed Senior Pastor have enough clout to ask donors for funds, especially major gifts? Is the new Senior Pastor excited and willing to be involved?
  • Has the congregation mourned enough to move forward?

The meeting was emotional, eye opening, life giving, and refreshing. Our consultant helped us to think biblically about the project, using the story of Nehemiah as a model. Just as Nehemiah had unfaltering faith to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, we too needed unfaltering faith that God was in this with us! Our walls had come down with the death of our pastor and needed rebuilt with new leadership, new vision, and a new beginning.

For the next twelve months, we worked on site plans, architectural drawings, permits, and budgeting. The meetings were long, involved, stretching meetings! But they were worth every minute! Our new Senior Pastor helped the congregation heal, formed deep relationships with our members, and solidified a leadership team. After a year, we felt that God was leading us to launch. We had our vision and were excited to move forward. We knew God was right there with us.

Our total campaign is $3,000,000, and thus far we have had $2,754,000 pledged. Now, 14th months into our 36-month campaign, we have collected 44% of the total. We have designed the capital campaign as a way to honor the legacy of Rev. Panther–a man who made his life’s work reaching people for Christ.

From this process, I have learned to trust God, to listen to the congregation, and to step out in faith. When faced with loss, consider the ways that God can, through grace, redeem your work and give you vision for the future.

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Christine O'Brien and her husband Bill have been part of First United Methodist Church in Butler, PA, since 2001. Christine came on staff in 2006 and held several position before becoming the Executive Director in 2011. When not in the office, Bill and Christine enjoy their six children and three grandchildren. They like to ski, golf, take walks, and enjoy the company of their family.

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