Dear First Baptist Church Dallas Lay People:
As your May 2 "Commitment Sunday" approaches, just some friendly words of encouragement and advice from the Watchdog. I don't know if you will reach your goal of $130 million, but I wish you the best in whatever comes about from your campaign. The marketing campaign and the messages targeted at your wallet and financial portfolios makes me question whether this is God's will or man's will. I personally have a difficult time with the magnitude of the project, but even moreso the textbook secular marketing techniques used to play on emotions to get you to part with your wealth.
But some friendly, albeit unsolicited, advice:
1. Be conservative in your pledge amount
You will be doing your pastor and your church a favor if you pledge on the conservative side - that is if you are pledging at all. If you believe, as I do, that the $130 million price tag is probably low, and you couple that with likely probability that the actual pledges that come in can be expected to be higher than the eventual receipts, this can spell financial disaster for your church.
Make sure that what you pledge is reasonable, within your means, and won't create a financial hardship for your family. You having plenty of money for your family, your kids' education, and helping others in need is more of God's will for you than a "Crystal Campus". And do not pledge or divert funds from your retirement to the program; the mega church pastors who advocate such building projects are not dipping into theirs, and they won't be around to help you in your old age.
Suppose if the actual price tag is $150 million - which is not far-fetched at all - and if the actual pledges that come in after 3 years are $100 million...you have just straddled your church with a $50 million debt that will cost tens of thousands of dollars per week to service the interest. In this case the "For Future Generations" will be referring to massive debt as well as a new campus.
If you believe the church should pay off the existing debt first and then bank maybe 10% of the new construction cost BEFORE embarking on construction, maybe you want to consider handing in your pledge card marked "undetermined" or "as the Lord provides".
2. An excessive pledge amount is not necessarily proof of great faith, and it does not mean you are a more faithful church member.
Don't get sucked into the idea that the more excessive or risky your pledge is, that the greater faith you are demonstrating. The televangelists use this trick all the time, your pledge to their ministry is the "seed" or the "bridge" to your blessings.
God doesn't expect you to give generously and sacrifically to a building fund. God can use your new buildings for His glory, no question, but he can also use your present facilities. Nowhere in the New Testament are believers encouraged to give to glamorous structures. They are commanded to be generous in helping fellow believers, and caring for the poor and widows. An excessive pledge will make your pastor happy, but it might be that God wants you to be doing OTHER good works with your money.
3. Be cautious in approving the project
If the estimated cost of the campus is $130 million, based on depressed construction costs, be safe and assume the cost will be a minimum of $150. If your church does not get to at least $150 million in committments, I would hesitate to approve the project. People mean well, and might make committments they can't keep - especially since the hard marketing techniques may lead to committments based on emotion and may never pan out. When you're talking about projects in the hundreds of millions of dollars, your church can face financial ruin if you're off 20% on both the costs and the giving side of the equation.
4. Don't overestimate the importance of new buildings.
Don't think that your new campus is going to necessarily reach one single more person for Christ than you would with the old buildings. It's cliche to say "buildings don't reach people for Christ", but it's so true. You might need new buildings to replace the ancient ones that are falling apart, but don't think for a second that anybody in Dallas is going to be impressed with your new facilities. There's nothing you can build that will outdo the world's construction. The Crystal Campus looks glamorous in the videos and marketing pieces, but its still just a steel and glass.
You might steal some sheep with the newness and the "wow factor" at the grand opening, but your facilities within a couple of years will be outdone by some other church, your technology will become outdated, and the luster will have worn off. What reaches people for Christ are loving, committed disciplies of Christ who share the gospel in word and deed. It doesn't hurt either to have a genuine God-called preacher, and small bible study groups of loving people are what changes lives, not buildings. If you have that now, you already have what you need to do God's will.
About the last point: I was at FBC Jacksonville when the Children's Building and Visitor's Center was built around 2000. It was billed as the most state-of-the-art children's church facility at the time, and probably was. It was to provide a singular focal point downtown with the "water feature" with the high and lifted up cross, on the campus' central street corner (sound familiar?). It would tie our campus together with several more sky walkways to the pre-school building and a path to the worship center. It was going to give us a central point to greet our visitors in a beautiful foyer and conference area - which incidentally was converted to the Pastor's Office Suite that your former pastor now resides in - but I digress. And it was paid for in cash - no risk, the money was given, and then it was built.
I don't have the exact numbers, but I'm not sure that the building did much to grow the Children's program, or reached more families for Christ. You see, FBC Jax already had the best children's director in Shelly Baumgartner, and the best children's music director in Nancy Brandt. More than that, it had workers that were totally sold out to discipling children and reaching families. I worked one year in 4th grade the first year the building was in operation, and was blown away by the steadfast commitment of these FBC Jax children's workers. They were going to fulfill God's will for their ministry whether it be in that new building, or back in the circa 1920 building they were in prior to that. To be fair, that building now houses the FBC Academy, so it is serving dual purposes, which is good.
The lesson is: it ain't the building at all, its the people in the building, and their genuine love for people...seeing people as sinners who need a savior and families that need to be loved - not as noses and nickels. If you have a wonderful state of the art campus and an abusive, angry preacher (which you don't - on the latter), you might as well be back in the 100-year old building. If you have the most modern campus and your church is all about attracting the rich, the "beautiful people", Dallas will sense it and be turned off to your message. If you have a "water feature" that changes colors with the season, but have serious long-term debt that stifles your ability to carry out needed ministries - well, you get the picture.
Build, if God leads. But be sure it is God leading, and not man.
That's my two-cent's worth, from the Watchdog.
And on Commitment Sunday tell Sandy Patty I said "Hi".