Few things are as treasured as a church’s vision.  We pray for vision because without it our people perish.  When we have a clear, crisp and compelling vision, we ruthlessly fight for it.  Pastors work very hard at communicating it.  We pour it into our church attenders week-in and week-out and ask them to live it out.

In preparation of a FREE webinar I am conducting this Thursday at 2:00 PM EST entitled The Biggest Challenges Your Church Faces (And How To Solve Them) I recently spoke with Mike Linch, the incredible senior pastor of NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, GA.  Our conversation was on the subject of how church debt negatively impacts vision and the overall thinking of church leaders.

To provide a little background, INJOY Stewardship Solutions had the privilege of helping NorthStar retire a significancy amount of its debt.  When I asked Mike how lessening the burden of debt changed how he leads, he provided me 18 Facts About How Church Debt Kills Church Vision:

  1. You Must Become Sick Of Debt And What It Does To Your Church To Pay It Off – When asked why they finally did a debt retirement capital campaign, Mike said, “We got sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
  2. Paying Off Debt Requires A Unique Vision – Because debt is not something people get excited about paying off, you must cast vision of what is on the other side of the debt.
  3. Paying Off Debt Creates Unique Opportunities For Your Church – Mike told me if the debt was retired, “They could change the world.”  And with how effective NorthStar’s ministry is, Mike is right.
  4. Tell Your Church Specifically What Is On The Other Side Of Debt – People give to vision.  Mike said NorthStar’s vision of what was on the other side of debt was both specific and broad.  They could plant churches, invest in missions, invest more into their community, and walk into other partner churches around the country and give them money to invest in their communities.
  5. Many Pastors Are Immobilized By The Size Of Their Debt – This is why many churches never start a capital campaign for debt.  It simply looks insurmountable.
  6. Many Pastors Fear Paying Off Debt – Paying off debt is often not easy.  Mike acknowledged a silent fear many pastors have.  He said, “It looks awful when you fail.”
  7. Most People In Your Church Do Not Care About Your Church’s Debt – They have their own debt they are worried about.  Also, because we are in a consumeristic society, if you give people good preaching, good music and good children’s and youth programming, they are just fine thank you.
  8. Many Staff In Your Church Do Not Care About Your Church’s Debt – They are many times over-worked and under-paid.  They are silently hoping you never ask them to sacrifice even more.
  9. Many Pastors Think People Will Not Respond – Therefore, they simply do not move forward with a debt retirement campaign.  Mike said, “We lived in fear.  People don’t give to debt.”
  10. Pastors And Church Leaders Must Finally Come To Grips With How Much Debt Is Killing Their Ministry – In a defining moment of clarity, Mike told the story of his former executive pastor walking into a staff meeting and saying, “We give the bank almost one week’s offering every month.”
  11. Debt Has One Answer To Any Question You Ask – NO!!! – Many times NorthStar wanted to do things and the bank said “No!”  When I personally talk to churches it is like I hear banks say, “You want to build to reach more people – NO!  You want to hire new staff – NO! You want to give money away to those who are hurting – NO!  NO! NO!”  Debt’s only answer to pastors and church leaders is “No!”
  12. People Follow The Pastor’s Lead When Paying Off Debt – So be encouraged.  Mike said, “People get excited when you’re excited.  When I got fired up, they got fired up.”
  13. Pastors Must First Get Their Leaders On Board To Successfully Pay Off Debt – Mike did a very smart thing.  When he had had enough and was ready to retire the debt, he first met with 30+ entrepreneurial leaders in the church.  They discussed whether to pay off debt or look at other options.  Each and every leader said, “Pay off the debt.”  His leaders were on board and ready to help him.
  14. Paying Off Debt Gives You Vision – This was my greatest learning from speaking with Mike.  I asked how retiring such a significant amount of the debt affected him as a pastor and how he leads.  Mike said, “I have vision again.  It’s hard to build new dreams you that reality (debt).”  There is an inverse relationship between debt and vision.  As debt decreases, vision increases.  As debt increases, vision decreases.
  15. Paying Off Debt Gives Your Church A Sustainable Future – Mike said, “I feel like when my tenure is done, 2 years, 10 years, 20 years, NorthStar will now be setup for the next guy.”  For my money, please make it 20 years!
  16. Because Of Exponential Growth Sometimes Responsible Capital Debt Is Necessary  – Going back 15-20 years, the church had to build because of its exponential growth.  Mike noted, “Not one penny of debt would we redo but we were stuck with it.”
  17. Debt Is Often A Result Of Impatience – Mike remembered, “We were like when a young couple builds the house their parents were living in.”  To which I responded, “Yeah, but to be fair, you were like a young couple who after being married for two years adopted 2,000 children.  You needed a much bigger house.”
  18. Be Prepared For Two Capital Campaigns – One For The Building, One For The Remaining Debt – So have a multiple campaign strategy.  Mike broke down the communication strategies for each.  He said, “Give the vision for the future building then give the vision (in the second campaign) for what’s on the other side of the debt.”

I can’t thank Mike enough for his transparency.  Because he loves pastors and church leaders so much, he graciously shared NorthStar’s story of its successful debt retirement.  I hope you learned a lot.  I know I did.

Once again, to help church leaders, this Thursday at 2:00 PM EST, I will be hosting a FREE webinar entitled The Biggest Challenges Your Church Faces (And How To Solve Them).  I will be speaking on increasing weekly giving, debt retirement, attracting volunteers and discipling financial leaders.  Click HERE for more information and to sign up.  I would be honored to have you join us and invest in your leadership.


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