In 2008, I wrote an entire chapter on the abuse of the church capital campaign industry in Church Unique, entitled "Vision Quacks: How Consultants Undermine Vision in the Name of Vision"  At the last minute a I decided to pull the chapter because I didn't want to misrepresent the few good consultants in the industry.

But now that I have entered the arena,  I am compelled to speak up again.  Almost two years ago, I recruited an incredibly talented team of six individuals and lead a 2-year process to re-design  the basic campaign approach. This series of posts arises from our thinking.

While we could list many reasons that "campaigns-in-a-can" have significant limitations, what follows is my vote for the top three. The standard capital campaign for churches:

  • Promotes Anorexic Vision

  • Misuses Leadership Capacity 

  • Creates Unacknowledged Dissonance

Let's look at the first one today:

Typical Campaigns Promote Anorexic Vision

Standard campaigns are driven by a weak vision, not a healthy one. It all starts when the consultant wrongly validates the goals of the campaign—land acquisition, or building, or debt reduction, or multi-site expansion—as the church’s vision.  Sure you need to clarify what you want to buy. But capital needs like these, by themselves, don’t convey the substance and sustainability of a well-articulated vision. The campaign goal is not the vision, but a piece of a large whole. And capital campaign consultants are not equipped, or motivated to help you articulate the larger whole.

Think about what a pastor unknowingly does to his congregation— It’s like trying to run a marathon on junk food. A pastor asks people to sacrifice (marathon training) and then feeds them french fries (we are going to be a multi-site church). May I ask you a blunt question? Who really cares about a multisite strategy? Isn't that a means to some greater end? Why would people care about the means unless you unpack the bigger picture and the deeper motives behind multi-site?  And, by the way, if you justify your vision with a phrase like "we want to reach, teach and release disciples of Jesus," or some other 3-phrase mantra, that isn't enough.

What have the canned-approach guys done to adapt over the last few years?

Rather than clarifying the bigger vision, consultants encourage you to tack on a missional initiative or feel-good project to “compensate” for the capital need.  For example, let's say building expansion is going to cost two million dollars. The pastor begins wiggling in his seat because he anticipates some pushback regarding the facility expense, especially from the millennial generation. Rather than exploring and developing clearly the facility's role in the bigger vision, the consultant recommends including money for the medical facility in Togo. Does that sound heroic? Well it may be, but not if it is "covering up" a lack of vision for the building to begin with.

What's the answer?

Yes, you want to rally your people to a better future. And yes, that better future may involve sacrificial giving. But do you think a few polished sermons, a cool building elevation, and a nifty vision mantra is enough?  People need—and deserve—more than a general sense of your church's future if you expect them to sacrifice. They need something vividly clear and stunningly compelling all centered in God's unique work through your church.

You don't know what you don't know? 

The impact of the campaign industry is so widespread, pastors are truly unaware of how underfed their congregations are with vision junk food. Hence this post title— is it possible that your last campaign actually hurt your church? What if there was a way for vision to be so clear that the campaign felt altogether different, completely better and totally natural? You don't know what you don't know. When most churches start their campaigns they are usually a  good six months away from the clarity they really need to drive it.

An under-developed vision always leads to under-realized resourcing.

If you would like more information for a new kind of campaign built around a clear and comprehensive vision, let me know by filling out the short form below.