Feasibility study underway for conference-wide capital campaign

October 01, 2013

By: Christa Meland

Several months after delegates of the 2013 Minnesota annual conference session cast a virtually unanimous vote in favor of a conference-wide capital campaign for congregational development, a campaign feasibility study was launched in late September.

The campaign will position the Minnesota Conference to achieve its mission to “equip missional congregations”—one of four vision pathways that are part of the conference’s Journey Toward Vitality, which outlines key steps to ensure that offering Christ in a Wesleyan way is at the center of what we do and are.

The feasibility study will identify potential major donors, determine realistic financial goals and a timeline for the campaign, and uncover any special factors within the conference that would influence such an appeal.

“If you genuinely want people to give with their hearts, then you need to listen to where their heart is,” said Minnesota Conference Director of Congregational Development Dan Johnson, referring to the feasibility study. “Where their heart is, their treasure will be also.”

Preparation and discernment

Over the summer, Bishop Bruce R. Ough assembled a feasibility study task force that included leaders from the annual conference and the Minnesota United Methodist Foundation, as well as clergy and laity. In July, the conference requested proposals from well-regarded professional fundraising consulting firms interested in leading the feasibility study—and six firms put their hat in the ring. In September, the task force interviewed four of the firms that it deemed finalists.

Several weeks ago, the task force selected Tyler Associates out of Irving, Texas, to lead the feasibility study. The firm has deep knowledge of the United Methodist Church and has worked with both annual conferences and local churches within the denomination.

In October and November, Tyler Associates will conduct personal interviews with a cross section of 125 to 150 United Methodists within the Minnesota Conference—and collect additional feedback from hundreds more via electronic surveys. The information will be used to assess the conference’s campaign readiness. At the conclusion of the feasibility study, Tyler Associates will prepare a written report to present to the task force.

Common Table, the Congregational Development Ministry Team, the Council on Finance and Administration, and the Extended Cabinet will then review the findings of the feasibility study and vote on whether to launch a campaign. If the campaign moves forward, a capital campaign leadership team would be established by Bishop Ough in the spring of 2014, and a professional fundraising consultant would be hired to assist with developing the campaign strategy, schedule, and communications. Lead donors would be sought, and the public phase of a three- to five-year capital campaign would launch at the 2014 annual conference session next May.

Sowing seeds of faith

So, why is a capital campaign needed? The current $1.1 million annual budget for the Office of Congregational Development comes from several income sources. Roughly 50 percent is from apportionments, and the remaining 50 percent comes from a decades-old endowed congregational development fund, legacy gifts, and the sale of assets from churches that close.

As new faith communities have flourished in recent years, the endowed fund has been depleted to its original principal level; at the same time, legacy gifts have been on the decline. The Minnesota Conference currently supports 24 new faith communities, each of which is somewhere between zero and seven years old: eight that serve specific geographic audiences, 10 that target particular demographic groups, and six designed to meet the needs of precise psychographic groups (examples would be those in recovery or homeless youth).

As part of the Minnesota Conference’s Journey Toward Vitality, it aims to seed five new faith communities each year, with the goal of at least one becoming a sustainable chartered church; others within each group of five will continue to thrive but won’t actually become chartered churches because they’ll already be physically and/or financially affiliated with existing chartered churches.

In order to do that, new church development alone requires $1 million annually—substantially more than the $600,000 portion of the budget that’s currently allocated for it. (The remaining $500,000 goes to programs for local churches that build vitality, grants for congregations, leadership development, and ministry teams.)

In addition to funding new faith communities, the capital campaign would support revitalization efforts for existing churches. The conference aims to ensure that by 2017, 90 percent of the state’s United Methodist congregations will have set missional goals for vitality—more than 50 percent of which will be meeting those goals and 20 percent of which will be considered vital according to denominational “Vital Congregations” indicators. Additionally, by 2020, the conference aims to double the number of congregations that have at least 350 in worship—of which there are now approximately a dozen.

“It’s not just about giving money,” Johnson said of the capital campaign. “It’s joining arms to support a common mission, and it’s joining hearts to say we all share in the future of the Wesleyan movement in Minnesota. It gives a new sense of momentum that will have a payoff far beyond the individual congregations that are started or revitalized.”

Christa Meland is the director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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