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When to buy, when to renovate, or when to look the other way?
Nik Satelmajer
Except for small church groups, congregations need a place for worship and other programs. Church sponsored schools likewise need a facility for its programs. Once you make a decision that your church or school facility is needed or if you have facility that currently does not meet your needs, what do you do?
Let’s first consider the option of buying or building a facility. Buying a facility is a major undertaking and one that may unify the congregation or introduce discord. Here are steps to take so that you will have a positive experience:
  • Give the conference office a ‘heads up’ that you are looking into the possibility of a building program. Eventually they will need sign off on any real estate transaction since the property will be held by conference or association. They will want to see if the transaction fits into their master growth plan. They may also have some money that they can start setting aside to assist in the building program.
  • The church leadership needs to do its homework before making a presentation to the Board or general membership. That does not mean that the leadership present a “final” plan but it does mean research about prices, location, availability and membership buy-in has been done.
  • The Board needs to review the options and prepare a report listing various alternatives for the church membership.
  • The meeting of the general membership is critical since the membership must be supportive of any major building or buying project. It is important to listen to membership input even though some of the suggestions may be unrealistic. If some are advocating unrealistic plans, give them the opportunity to describe them and ask them to do more research. Often during the research process, a reasonable individual will convince himself or herself that the proposal has some serious shortcomings.
  • If after the general meeting (or after several general meetings) the consensus is to buy or build, appropriate committees (building, fundraising, etc.) need to be appointed. Great care must be exercised in the appointment of these committees so that people with the right knowledge, commitment, and connections are selected.
  • The committees need to determine the cost of the project and also the financial potential of the congregation. Do not assume that just because you want or need a building the members will support the project or that they have the ability to fund it. Too many projects fail or create dissent because the decision is made to go ahead and hope that “the Lord will provide.” The Lord indeed provides, but He expects us to move in an orderly and organized way.
  • Once the various studies have been done the congregation needs to make the final recommendation to the conference or association. In most cases an officer of the conference or association will need to sign an agreement to purchase or a major building contract.
  •  If the decision is approved to move forward with the purchase or building, it is important for the various committees to communicate throughout the project with the membership. And, be certain to communicate with the donors. Don’t assume that “everyone” knows what is happening with the project.
What about renovation?  While in many ways it is similar to by buying or building options several important points need to be kept in mind:
  • The church needs to ask, is the renovation a good investment or are we investing in a facility that will not meet our needs in several years. Or are we investing in a location that is not worth investing in?
  • Are the renovation costs realistic? Because renovations seem to be less expensive and complicated, it is tempting to accept general estimates that are not reliable. At times comments from individuals stating that they know what it will cost are taken as factual when in reality they are hearsay. Be certain to obtain factual estimates and determine if government building code regulations may increase the cost. It is not unusual for government agencies to require major upgrades (often very costly) when renovations are done.
  • If a major renovation is being considered it is wise to give the conference administration a ‘heads up’ on the dream because the property is most likely held by the conference or association. The conference may have access to some financial assistance. The conference legal department may wish to look at the building contract.
And finally, when do you look the other way? There are times when buying, building or renovating are not the options. If the congregation is not united the best plans will not make the proposed project successful. Likewise, you may have a united congregation and good plans but the cost is beyond your ability. At such times it is tempting to proclaim, “the Lord will provide” only to incur debts that will most likely create discord in the congregation. The Lord does provide, but that happens when we do our work in an orderly manner and when we ask God for guidance from the first step to the completion of the project
  • These are some basic points about buying, building, renovating or even walking away from a project. Each project has its own opportunities and pitfalls. Because a congregation is involved in such projects on an occasional basis it is important to get input from individuals who have experience.  You should check with your conference to find out if they have qualified personnel to guide you. You may also check a resource specifically designed for local churches. This resource is Successful Fundraising: A Guide for Local Churches by Lilya Wagner and Nikolaus Satelmajer and other contributors. You may obtain it from AdventSource at www.adventsource.org. Philanthropic Service for Institutions (PSI), a ministry of the North American Division, can also provide valuable input by telephone and in some instances by on sight visit.  You can contact PSI at:
  • General phone line: 301-680-6131
  • General e-mail:  info@philanthropicservice.com
And please check out their website:  www.philanthropicservice.com.
Though retired, Nik Satelmajer continues to engage in ministry with PSI, NAD Ministerial, and other services.