About five years ago we decided to build a new sanctuary and related space at Floris UMC. This was a huge decision because we knew it would create a level of debt that the church would have to live with for many years. We moved forward because we needed the space if, for Christ, we were going to reach more people in the community through worship, Sunday school and group life. The first phase of our facility went great, but we maxed out the worship and classroom space after 18 months or so and knew that we had to construct Phase Two. By this time Floris had become a seven-day-a-week church, so the space that we would create for job training, community events and all that happens in our ministry throughout the week (from exercise classes to support groups) would become a real opportunity for us to reach even more people in the community.
Our architect and builder told me that we built during a time of historically low construction prices due to the Great Recession. We also enjoyed historically low interest rates on the money that was borrowed. Finally, and most noticeably to me, it was also a time of historically high anxiety for pastors, church council and finance committee members as we watched the church weather the fluctuations of an economy experiencing cutbacks and sequestration. Despite all the hardships of the recession, Floris UMC members gave faithfully. Even in those years, we paid down our debt and arrived at our current $9,440,000 debt level years ahead of schedule.
That is the good news, but when your good news is that your debt is ONLY $9,440,000 in debt, it is probably not quite the time to pull out the streamers and party hats. Because here is the problem: that is still a lot of debt. Debt, even debt you planned and took out with great intentionality, still puts people, businesses and churches at risk. The higher the debt, the greater the risk. It also means that money that could be spent on ministry is going to service the debt and pay off interest instead.
That is why I have been so pleased when I have talked to Floris UMC members about the Imagine campaign and fielded questions in conversations. When they hear that a major part of the campaign, as much as 75 percent, will go to debt reduction, just about everyone is not just okay with this use of funds but excited about it. I have even talked with people who started attending the church after the sanctuary was constructed who felt the same way. They didn’t get to vote on building Phase Two, but they are pleased to have the opportunity to join with others to provide the blessing of the building to our church and community. What has been enjoyable to me is that the same joy and excitement that people had about constructing the facility can still be heard in those who want to now invest, or continue to invest in it at this time. And that quality—that joy and excitement—over something that has already served so many people so well makes being a pastor at Floris UMC a great thing to be.