How to Handle the Church Debt Dilemma

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Growing a business or a family without debt is almost unheard of. Expansion of facilities and products requires a good bank lender for businesses on the rise. A growing family usually means a bigger house…and a bigger mortgage. Yet, for growing churches, the addition of debt can spark a divisive dilemma.

The issue is generally age demographics. In America, persons 50 years of age or older control over 70% of the total personal financial assets and over 50% of discretionary income. Most are preparing for or already in retirement. Debt is a four letter word to anyone moving from accumulation of assets for retirement to sole dependence for living costs on the income from those assets.  Their days of prudent debt usage to build a business or accommodate a growing family are behind them. Usually holding key leadership positions in the church, their caution about new debt is well-intended; yet their support is crucial to fund the retirement of new debt.

Here are some thoughts on solving the dilemma.

  1. Develop a long-term facilities plan with reasonable cost numbers. If the church cannot hire an architect and develop good cost estimates, step back. Credibility for the plan begins with the initial presentation.
  2. Define a funding mechanism to include seed money along with legacy funds or hard pledges and the means to service the remaining debt over a reasonable timeframe.
  3. Quantify the return on investment. Demonstrate what the new facilities will do for church growth and reference other such projects in the area as well as your population projections.   

There’s a reason the 50 plus age group has the majority of assets and income. They’ve already borrowed and repaid debt. If you want to continue growing, develop a solid plan and gain the benefit of their experience…and, thus, their buy-in.

Bill Reid is a career banker specializing in wealth management. Prior to his banking career, Bill practiced as a CPA for a national accounting firm and in private industry. He received a B.B.A. in Accountancy from the University of Mississippi and later graduated from the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Bill and wife Jenny are members of the First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Most recently, he served as Chairperson of the Council of Stewards for his home church.

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