Getting to 100 Million
Two years ago, I sat across from the Executive Director of the foundation for a large, downtown church. His office was on the 22nd floor of a towering steel and glass bank building and felt very much like a place for successful people to build more success.
Uncomfortable in the environment, I asked the man a question it seemed he would enjoy answering: “How much is the foundation worth?”
My intuition correct, he responded with quick confidence, “62 Million as it stands.”
“Wow, well, what do you plan to do with it?”
He told me about stock portfolios, oil wells, secondary financial markets, as my head filled with white noise. I didn’t care about the mechanics of what a person did with $60 million; I wanted to know the purpose of having that amount of money.
Were they planning a big building project? Funding some enterprise I didn’t know about? Giving people truly spectacular Christmas bonuses? I assumed he hadn’t really understood the heart of my question, so I tried again,
“Sorry, I meant, well – What is the foundation’s goal? What are you trying to accomplish?”
He responded just as quickly as he had to the first question,
To make 100 Million dollars.
Rembrandts in the Attic
Foundations and endowments are relatively common at historic, well-resourced (primarily white) churches, seminaries, and denominations all across the United States. Many of them operate in such a way that their primary purpose is simply to grow. There’s nothing wrong with making money, and the people who steward those endowments are tasked with making sure that the capital outlives them and can help carry the institution into the future.
But is that all God asks of us?
Mark Elsdon, an ordained minister, missional entrepreneur, and author of We Aren’t Broke, makes a powerful argument that it can’t be. Her makes the case for “impact investing,” which he defines as investment that continues to build the resources of a foundation or fund and also creates a positive social impact along the way. He believes it could be the future of the church in America.
One of Elsdon’s proof-of-concept projects is a housing development for students generating over 2 million dollars a year. His church had land in a prime location near a university that was not being used, and he convinced his denominational body to take 2.5 million dollars out of their stock market portfolio and invest it in building this housing development. The development has not only more than returned its investment; it has provided a meaningful and safe community to students and a renewed energy to the congregation all the while.
Churches tend to think of money in two ways: they either gather, save, and grow it to keep the lights on, or they give it away to help people. Elsdon argues that the church can do both and find new and invigorating purpose along the way.
Some of the most impactful work we have done in Ministry Incubators is helping churches reimagine their spaces and resources as assets by building art studios, community gardens, and more in buildings that were once just a drain on resources to maintain.
You might be thinking, “ok, well, my congregation doesn’t have millions of dollars stored away or a prime real estate building. We’re just getting by.” According to Elsdon, our communities have access to more than we tend to recognize. He points to denominational funds, invested funds, property, endowments, and more, suggesting that, “there is a whole stack of money, of resources, that we often don’t think about, but it’s there. And it’s there — at least broadly in the church — in enormous dollar amounts.”
Spending 100 Million Dollars
We at Ministry Incubators are believers in leveraging the resources you already have at your disposal. For many of us working in or around these historic institutions, we have access to more resources that we need for our big ideas, whether we realize it or not. Many of us have Rembrandts in the attic collecting dust because we don’t know what to do with them. We are intimidated of dusting off and digging into the treasures we have socked away because we are afraid we will lose the security they provide us or limit our institutions ability to survive.
It is our own lack of imagination limiting our ability to survive. When a young boy coming to learn from Jesus had only a few loaves and fishes, he didn’t hold them tightly; he offered them at the feet of Jesus, not as an act of sacrifice, but as an act of faith in Jesus’s ability to provide abundance. What loaves and fishes have we kept hiding in our cloaks? What resources have we treated like our own lifeboats when they could be providing rescue to our whole community?
That foundation at that large church is now worth 95 Million dollars, and as the church attendance declines, and things like affordable housing and social services become more rare in the city, I wonder at all that could be done with 100 million dollars if only there was the bravery to believe God was doing something new, and give it a try.
As you evaluate your own Rembrandt’s in the attic, think about these unlikely sources:
- Conference, School, or Church-owned property that is rarely used.
- Classrooms, or venues that are only used a few hours a week, particularly at a church.
- Investment funds that only serve to create more money and not to transform communities.
- Denominational resources that are under-managed or utilized.
Elsdon, Mark, quoted in Mark Elsdon: The Church is not broke. Hicks, Sally (2021, May 18). Faith and Leadership. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from https://faithandleadership.com/mark-elsdon-the-church-not-broke