Church Building Matters

This week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.

When we decided last year to conduct the Church Building & Loan Fund’s (CB&LF’s) first comprehensive survey of churches, the expectation was that we would verify much of the anecdotal information that churches share with us. Namely, that when it comes to mortgages and financial education, CB&LF is a far better alternative to traditional lenders, our interest rates and terms are always more church-friendly than banks, and almost every church that uses CB&LF products and services is a satisfied customer. The survey affirmed all of that; yet it was the unanticipated learnings that were more impactful on our capacity to meet emerging needs of new and renewing churches.

churchIt was a pleasant surprise to learn that 73% of the churches CB&LF serves are Open and Affirming, that as a group they are far more culturally and racially diverse than UCC congregations overall, and that they aggressively embrace progressive UCC values. It was interesting to note that CB&LF loan partners are similar in membership size, but slightly smaller in budget than older UCC congregations. Perhaps the most surprising statistic the survey revealed, however, is that slightly more than half of the churches that inquire about CB&LF services are not looking for financial assistance. Only 29% of churches that contact us apply for loans. Indeed, churches that call us want “technical assistance” or what is more commonly referred to in the business world as consulting services.

Historically, CB&LF has defined “technical assistance” as expertise provided to help churches organize, plan and prepare to finance church building projects. Whether or not CB&LF assistance leads to a mortgage application, however, 37% of churches want to talk with CB&LF about their overall church building needs. Some 48% want to re-use or reconfigure their church buildings to meet emerging needs in the community and advance the Gospel in a new way. Half of all churches we serve are considering the possibility of developing underutilized or vacant property to meet emerging needs in the community and to possibly generate additional income for the church.  And more than 10% of churches have come to terms with the reality of severely reduced membership and want to plan for the legacy of the church once it closes.

These findings affirmed an emerging trend that we have seen in our work with churches: There is a growing, unmet demand for new, 21st century models of advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. New and renewing churches are grappling with ways to re-invent the concept of church, a new way of doing church that translates into innovative uses of buildings and space. These churches call CB&LF because they believe we have the expertise to help them figure out how to make this reinvention a reality.

We learned that congregations are looking for new, mission-focused uses of church buildings and space. This is important and challenging work with what is, for most congregations, their most valuable and enduring asset. CB&LF has embraced this strategic imperative by offering consulting services to assist with smaller, discrete building and space concerns as well as large, complex real estate projects. It is an exciting time for CB&LF to continue a 160-year tradition of helping church leaders to deploy assets for mission.

View all findings from the CB&LF survey in the presentation below. CARD was honored to serve as an active supporter and partner in the creation and testing of this survey. 

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