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Ethical Considerations in a Church Building Program: One Church’s Story

Pastors can have some big-sized dreams for God. So can kings.

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1 Chronicles 17 reports how King David processed his success in defeating Israel’s enemies, uniting the nation, bringing the Ark of the Covenant home and building a majestic palace. 
 
As he basked in this success, he was eager to pull off something gigantic for God. He came up with the idea of building a house for God—an idea that even the prophet Nathan liked. But, during the night, God visited Nathan and said, “Tell the king I’ve turned down his building permit.”
 
What about our building plans for God? We invest a tremendous amount of resources into worship centers, education buildings, recreational facilities, parking lots, technology and transportation. Is it our plan or God’s plan?
 
Our church, Second Baptist in downtown Little Rock, Ark., recently answered this question. We have about 350 in Sunday morning Bible studies, about 400 in Sunday morning worships and an annual ministry budget of over $1 million. We have 3 different buildings tied together—one built in 1948, one in 1957 and one in 1964. We also have an old two-story office building across the street, and a retreat center on our 240 acre recreational campus in West Little Rock.
 
Our Facility Development Team put together our plan over an 18-month period. We determined that we needed renewed and redesigned space. We realized that our members were embarrassed to invite friends. We realized that the old shape of the buildings didn’t work for the new shape of ministry.
 
So, from May to September 2001, we spent $2.76 million on a thorough renovation of all of our facilities—worship center, educational space, parking lot and retreat center.
 
Our decisions considered several ethical points.
 
First, we asked if this was a wise use of resources. We answered “yes” for two reasons. Our facilities became a barrier to reaching people and facilitating ministries. Since the renovation, we have seen an increase in guests and the creative use of our facilities.
 
In addition, downtown Little Rock is undergoing an economic, residential and tourist rebirth. We are ahead of the residential growth curve now that our renovation is complete.
 
Also, our church members believe that God kept the church alive when the downtown area was declining. But, with the rebirth of downtown, and the fact that in 18 months we will be the only Arkansas Baptist Convention-related church in the downtown area, we believe God is giving us a new day for ministry and growth.
 
Second, we were honest with our people about the project and process. Even though our campus is small, very few members knew all areas of the buildings. So we made a video of our buildings demonstrating the desperate need for better facilities. Most of our members quickly agreed. 
 
A few of our members thought we ought to do only some painting and touch-up work. Thankfully, they did not try to sabotage the process. We held town hall meetings to keep our church family informed and to prepare for a secret ballot vote, which passed with 90 percent support.
 
We did confront a difference between projected cost and the actual cost of the total renovation. We went into the project talking about $2 million dollars. Midway into the project, we went back to the church and received approval to spend up to $2.65 million. After the 18-week renovation blitz, we ultimately spent $2.76 million.
 
A few members questioned the leadership’s handling of the overage, but the church family supported the project with its prayers, giving and excitement over the finished product, even though it was more expensive than projected.
           
Third, we considered whether or not to use a fund raising consultant. We did. Some members did not want to spend the extra money. Some members thought the pastor and staff, along with key church leaders, ought to be able to design and implement the capital campaign.
 
I made the case to hire a consultant. We have experienced fund-raisers in our church, but we did not have anyone who had designed the specifics for a church campaign. So we found a consultant who had a lot of experience with churches like ours, had a nuts-and-bolts plan in place, and would keep us on track. He helped us select the motivational leaders in our church who inspired commitment to the project.
 
And our people responded with their resources. Over $1.3 million was pledged prior to the church-wide campaign kickoff luncheon. Our members pledged $2.25 million to the campaign over a three-year period. We have secured a bank loan that enables us to use the money that’s given each month to pay the note.
 
Now we are following up the physical renovation with spiritual renovation. The lifestyle we developed during 50 years of downtown deterioration and church numerical decline will not work in connecting people with Christ in this new century.
 
We’re applying construction workers’ renovation techniques to our individual lives and church life.  Spiritually speaking, you have to remove asbestos, bust concrete, knock out walls, take up floors, cut out ceilings, rewire circuits, smooth out surfaces, redesign space and decorate areas. 
 
Through a church renovation project, we’ve learned some great lessons about what it means to be the church in a new day.
 
Ray Higgins is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the fourth in a four-part series about church building projects. Part four, “Building as Part of Ministry,” is included at EthicsDaily.com today as well. Also follow the links below to read the first two stories in the series.
 
Blessed are the Builders

 
New Age of ‘Cathedrals’: Reflecting the Image of God or Man?