By Jeff Brumley
Two years ago, Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo. gambled that two cartoon cows would help foster a culture of generosity and transform stewardship in the congregration.
It might sound crazy, but it worked, resulting in a new two-year budget cycle that draws from a single account for expenditures and, some church members say, boosts congregational buy-in for everything from maintenance to mission trips.
“If people can feel that the time and money they are giving is making an impact around the world, that gets them excited,” said Jason Edwards, senior pastor at Second Baptist.
Some church members welcomed the idea as a way to break the crisis-to-crisis cycle of capital campaigns.
“This isn’t about these one-time campaigns, but where is stewardship in my faith-walk and what does it mean to be a Christian?” said Eric Zahnd, a leader of the new stewardship approach at the church and Platte County prosecuting attorney.
In search of a game-changer
But getting to such acceptance took some doing.
Edwards was called to the church nearly six years ago, partly with the understanding he would quickly initiate a debt campaign to retire the note on a $1.9 million renovation that had just been completed.
“I held off,” Edwards said. “I thought we could be more strategic.”
And be more giving.
“We needed to work on creating a culture of generosity,” he said. “It isn’t that we were stingy, but thrifty.”
Edwards discerned other needed changes, as well, including how spending priorities were determined. The church also needed to fully consider its mission in the community and world. Once determined, those things would inspire stewardship, he believed.
“We really needed to do something that would change the game for us in terms of giving,” he said.
But what that something was wasn’t all that clear.
‘Give me some leeway’
Clarity came quickly when Edwards met with consultants, one of whom suggested the “one fund” or “single fund” fundraising approach long popular with colleges and universities. It features merging various fundraising appeals into a single initiative built around a single account to be used for all ministries.
It was a radical idea for the church, and some at Second Baptist were still more focused on getting out of a remaining $300,000 in renovation debt.
“I said give me some leeway on this and I’ll get the debt paid off, too,” Edwards said.
He got that leeway and with it adopted the one-fund approach, while abandoning the annual stewardship cycle in favor of a 24-month fundraising initiative called Catalyst.
Traditionally, the church operated on an $800,000 annual budget, plus whatever special financial appeals were necessary. With Catalyst, Second Baptist ministers and lay leaders launched a multi-level branding and fundraising campaign of $2.7 million for a two-year period.
Rather than urging the congregation to give for specific items, such as missions or maintenance, Catalyst assured those categories would be covered along with others from the single fund.
Designated giving is discouraged at Second Baptist, as are fundraisers for special projects.
“We have limited almost all fundraising opportunities outside of our Catalyst fund,” Edwards said.
‘We really branded it hard’
Just as important as the new fund was the marketing campaign waged to promote the new concept.
Affinity group and preview meetings were held, as were square dances and special events for high-capacity givers.
A cattle theme was adopted to tie in with the region’s cowboy culture. Cowbell key chains were distributed and two cartoon cows, K.C. and Moe, modeled after the popular Hallmark Hoops and Yo Yo greeting card characters, were created to pitch Catalyst.
“We needed to inject humor into the whole thing,” Edwards said.
But they didn’t neglect the spiritual component. Edwards preached a series of sermons on the subject and a devotional guide called “Generosity” was published. It takes readers through the various projects Catalyst helps fund.
“Our spiritual formation people wrote six weeks of Bible studies on generosity,” Edwards said.
Appeals were made on social media, including YouTube videos, where stories were told about how Catalyst funds were being used on mission projects.
“We really branded it hard,” Edwards said.
‘A bonus for everybody’
And it was worth it, said Larry Gregory, the volunteer property manager at Second Baptist.
Gregory said he’d been the property committee chairman before assuming his current role two years ago. Those earlier times were marked by a constant struggle to pay for unplanned expenses or even routine maintenance.
“If an AC unit went out, we sweated.”
Those days are gone under Catalyst, Gregory said.
“Now, we have built up our maintenance account.”
But it goes beyond that, he added.
When funding objects are laid before church members, bigger picture projects are included and people are encouraged to envision what their church can become. That comes in the form of concrete goals, like a funded maintenance account and special projects designed to enhance building appearance.
For Second Baptist that included repairs to a portico on the east side of the building that communicates a message to the downtown community.
“It’s visibly clear that we have a growing church and people in the community can see that,” Gregory said.
The single-fund, 24-month approach has enabled members to see their part in the church’s ministries, he added.
“When you set pictures out in front of people that say, ‘This is what we are going to do,’ and they see you do it — that’s a bonus for everybody,” Gregory said.
‘How we serve Christ’
While the campaign didn’t reach its $2.7 million goal, the congregation is going ahead with a vote this weekend on Catalyst 2.0 and a target of $2.3 million.
The lower goal, Edwards said, was recommended by consultants as a way to ease up on givers and take some of the pressure off the campaign.
And he added that most of the important initiatives, including sending 200 church members on missions trips, were achieved.
Most of all, the church has a new attitude about giving, Edwards said.
“I thought, is there a way not just to stand up and talk about eliminating debt, but about vision and … helping people ingest the idea that what we do with our money is part of how we serve Christ,” he said.
Oh — and Edwards said he kept his promise about the mortgage.
“We burned the note on Oct. 1.”
Baptist News Global’s reporting on innovative congregational ministries is part of the Pacesetter Initiative, funded in part by the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation.