More room for ministry under a Big Sky
GREAT FALLS, Mont. —‘Yet who knows whether you have come…
GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Spider Man, bouncy castles and games of cornhole and pickleball (a combination of badminton and table tennis) highlighted the Sunday afternoon carnival hosted by the Great Falls Church of Christ.
The grand opening celebration for the church’s new location followed months of meticulous preparation. Less than 24 hours before the service, church members were putting on the final touches — setting tables in their expansive fellowship hall, debating strategic locations for potted plants and hanging the all-important “Bible shelf” in the men’s restroom.
The change of venue for the 71-year-old church could have been painful, said Jim Sullivan, a deacon and worship leader.
It wasn’t the new building they had wanted. That would have cost too much. And it was across town from the place where they had met for nearly a half-century. (Not that traffic in Montana is a major hindrance.)
Still, if the building’s previous owners “had just handed us the keys and we said, ‘OK, we’re in here. Now what do we do?’ I think it would have had the potential to be a really divisive thing,” Sullivan said.
Moving the church — and keeping it united through the process — required buy-in from its 200-plus members. That’s what church leaders prayed and planned for, dating back to their first fundraising campaign.
Initially, the church’s four elders asked minister Scott Laird to take charge of a capital campaign to help the church move from its small building near the middle of town. After investigating what that involved, Laird went back to the elders and said, “We’ve got to get some consultants, or you guys are going to kill me.”
The church contacted The Carpenter’s Plan, a Tennessee-based company that conducts capital campaigns for churches and nonprofits. At first, the idea of spending the church’s money to raise more money was a hard sell, said elder Scott Lukkason. In retrospect, “that was probably the best investment we ever made,” he said.
Church members divided into teams to handle different aspects of the campaign. The whole church studied what the Bible says about stewardship — even the children, who adopted a nautical “we’re traveling on a steward ship” theme, said Lukkason’s wife, Shirley.
The church conducted two capital campaigns, and members gave sacrificially, Laird said. One sold a car and gave the money to the church.
The funds from the two campaigns, however, were not enough to cover the estimated costs of construction on property the church had purchased just outside city limits. Then the church learned that a Baptist church across town was considering selling its building.
The Church of Christ paid $1.175 million for the larger, Baptist building. Thanks to the capital campaigns, the church was able to make the purchase without dipping into the money it received for its old building.
The congregation has invested those funds with The Solomon Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit that offers investments to members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches.
Sullivan and his wife, Michelle, supervised the transition to the new building. As part of the church’s yearly vision meeting, members signed up for various teams. The functional space team pondered what Bible class or church function would be served best by each room in the new building. A visual space team supervised painting and decorating.
When dividing into teams, “we determined that anybody who signed up was going to be used, called or begged,” said Patty Laird, the minister’s wife. “If someone signs up, you’ve got to use them somewhere.”
Church leaders were surprised by the level of enthusiasm, said Pam Alfred, an elder’s wife. When the teams were forming, “we had visitors there who said, ‘Can I sign up for something?’” she said.
Jim Sullivan added, “The move gave everybody something to do.” And it has helped “a lot of people who felt like maybe they didn’t have a purpose in church before.”
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