Recession doesn't stop church renovations

Sunday, August 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
River City Construction workers renovate the worship space at Evangelical Free Church on Tuesday. The large window above the baptistery will be filled in because of leaks in the past.

COLUMBIA — The stained glass windows at Sacred Heart Church were in such need of repair that the congregation decided to undertake the project even though the economy had turned sour.

The needs of expanding congregations and building maintenance means Columbia's churches are often in the midst of construction and renovation projects regardless of the country’s economic situation. Even when a recession makes many purses tight, however, church members are still finding ways to contribute to  building funds.


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The repairs to the stained glass at Sacred Heart began last fall, at the beginning of the economic downturn. The project has been funded primarily through contributions of parish members, Deacon John Weaver said.

“This is just sort of a fundamental part of the building,” Weaver said. “People recognize the need, and they’re willing to cooperate.”

Like the congregation of Sacred Heart, members at Grace Bible Church have similarly been inclined to give toward building funds.

Because the recession had not yet hit when the congregation moved into its new facility last summer, the church was essentially immune from the effects of the financial crisis. The old building, however, still sits unoccupied on Paris Road with a for-sale sign in the front yard.

The Rev. Michael Burt, pastor at Grace Bible Church, said he believes the recession has hindered the sale of the building.

“I would believe that’s probably what the problem is,” Burt said. “We’ve had a lot of interest, just not a lot of interest in cash.”

Burt said the delayed sale of the building has slowed loan payments because the church is not receiving the influx of money it had hoped would come from the sale. Therefore, the church has had to pay higher interest on loans.

“Obviously carrying additional debt during a recession is a challenge,” Burt said. “However, we have not had to cut back. We haven’t sacrificed any ministries. All of our outreach, our benevolence, salaries, we’ve been able to hold our own.”

The church held a capital campaign to raise money for the building, receiving $800,000 in pledges. Even though those pledges were made before the recession, Burt said for the most part they have been fulfilled by members. He said some people have even given to the building fund beyond pledge levels.

While wrapping up a capital campaign during a recession was not difficult for Grace Bible Church, starting one may be a different story.

Evangelical Free Church kicked off a capital campaign recently to fund a multiple-phase renovation at the church. Members at Evangelical Free were in touch with Grace Bible Church to discuss how the capital campaign was carried out. Evangelical Free decided to use the same consultant that Grace Bible had used.

Troy Marsh, worship director at Evangelical Free, said the consultant warned that the recession might make raising funds more difficult.

“The company that we’re working with said that two years ago we could have seen a much larger figure,” Marsh said. “The good news is that we have a church that generally gives, so we haven’t been too affected by the economy yet. It’s just asking people to give more is where things are starting to get a little tougher. The expectations are that it’s going to be a little lower, mainly due to the economy.”

A committee of volunteers has been planning renovations for the church for about a year and a half. The first phase, remodeling the worship space, began a few weeks ago and is expected to be completed by October. Marsh said the church had not nailed down a figure for the capital campaign mainly because it is unsure exactly how much the entire project will cost.

But the church has plans to save on its construction by using volunteer labor. In the first five weeks of the project, church members estimated they saved $16,000 by doing the demolition work themselves. That enabled the construction contractor to start right in on the job, said Steve Wills.

Unlike churches using a capital campaign to complete needed repairs and renovations in the church, Christian Fellowship Church took out a capital improvement loan to fund the remodeling of the church’s sanctuary last summer.

Mike Acock, administration, missions and children’s pastor at Christian Fellowship, said the decision to take out a loan was based on the fact that the church had not had debt for about four years.

The sanctuary is part of a building that houses both a church and a K-12 school, parts of which are 20 years old.

“It had been so long since we had renovated it,” Acock said.

Acock said plans had been in the works for about five years prior to the actual remodeling. He said the church probably would have gone ahead with the project even if it had known how the economy would change during the year.

Acock also said the recession hasn’t hindered the ability to pay back loans, as giving to the church has not decreased during the hard economic times. About 5 percent of the operating budget is used to make monthly payments.

In addition to large projects such as the sanctuary renovation, Acock said other parts of the building are constantly being fixed and updated to keep them in good condition.

“We are always trying to keep up with all the parts and pieces of the building,” Acock said. “Some big things don’t get attended to as regularly as we would like.”

The auditorium renovation, which included new carpets and paint, a new stage platform and a new sound system, was just one thing on a list of larger projects the church would like to update. Acock said there is a list of about $250,000 in updates the church would like to do.

“If there’s been any recessional impact, it would be on those things,” Acock said.



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