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First Lutheran Church can retire debt

Sitting at a table in the “bride room” of First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes, Pastor Dave Peterson said that without the 2001 addition to the church, a meeting in that room wouldn’t be possible. While the church has reaped the benefit of having the much needed addition for the last 12 years, it’s also put a strain on other improvements the church has needed. Each month, the church pays more than $10,000 for its mortgage. “That inhibited us from doing other things,” church member Adrienne Buboltz said. “It was like there was a millstone hanging around our neck,” member Ardys Horner added. So the church council decided to hold a capital campaign. In the past, the church had conducted two capital campaigns that came up short on funds. So this time, they decided to enlist a professional group to help with the cause. And the abundant results have been a blessing for the church. Hiring help and finding focus The church enlisted Scott Schoaf of Walsh & Associates, a firm out of the Twin Cities area that specializes in fundraising for churches. With two attempts in the past to organize their own campaigns, they both brought minimal success, Mark Lindquist said. So while the church council decided to hold another campaign to reduce or retire the church’s debt, by hiring Walsh & Associates, they found there should be more to the campaign to make it a success. Church member Mike Fillmore said the firm helped decide on a feasible dollar amount to work toward, and they did a lot of background work with the congregation to see what the people would support. It went from paying down debt to a three-point campaign. While the debt was an ongoing concern for the church, there were also other needs that needed to be met as well. Shingles needed to be repaired, for one. “And then just moving our church ahead,” member Larry Buboltz said. So rather than focusing on just the debt reduction, the three areas the church settled on were paying down/retiring the debt, making repairs to the building and renovating the sanctuary and enhancing their ministries.     “It was to appeal to a wide range of people,” church member Madalyn Sukke said. So church volunteers went out and asked people to donate to the capital campaign. But the committee members were the first to step up and donate. “Before we could ask a commitment, we had to make our own,” Adrienne Buboltz said. And though there were suggested giving amounts, the committee learned it was better to just ask people to donate the best they could. “It all adds up,” church member Sarah Keizer said. “And it’s a very effective way” of asking, Fillmore added. Lindquist admitted that when they set a goal of $1 million, he didn’t think they would reach it. But not only did they reach their goal, they have almost reached the challenge goal they set of $1.5 million. The church is sitting at about $1.4 million, and Peterson said he’s sure they will end up reaching the $1.5 million mark, and possibly some extra. With people asked to pledge over the next three years, the church brought in about $400,000 for this year alone. When the three-year period is over, Peterson said, the debt will be paid off — just in time for the church’s 100-year anniversary. Crunching the numbers There is an average of 500 people worshiping at First Lutheran Church on a weekly basis, and there are about 200 kids involved in the Sunday school program. Those numbers add up to a lot of space needs, and a lot of support for the church. When the 2001 ChristFirst addition opened, it carried a roughly $2 million price tag. As of June 2013, the church still owed $833,500. The $10,204 monthly payments were costing $4,000 alone in interest. Though the addition has proven needed and used by the church and the community, it’s time for more upgrades. But, like with any upgrades, there comes a price tag. Peterson said that with the looming monthly mortgage payment, the church council wasn’t going to put the church in even more debt to make additions to the sanctuary. Each has their passion “It wasn’t to buy down debt at all,” Sukke said of her reason for taking part in the capital campaign. “For me it was the aspect of being able to do renovations to be functional for today’s worship.” Her big push, she admits, is for the bell choir to have a permanent space. Now the bell choir has to bring tables in and out with each performance. That will be taken into consideration with the new sanctuary design. “We’ve really outgrown the space we’re in,” she said of the church. As a new member of the congregation, Terry Kemmer said he and his wife were impressed with First Lutheran’s outreach, whether it is locally, nationally or internationally, and he was happy to raise money to add to its ministries. Now a largely supported charity throughout the area, TeacHaiti was started through First Lutheran Church, as just one example. “I’ve always been impressed with Detroit Lakes,” Larry Buboltz said of the generosity of people. He said retiring the debt of the building was his driving force in the capital campaign. Ministries aren’t always local. The church is also sending money to help with relief in the Philippines after the recent typhoon. They have helped in past relief for those involved with Haiti, Hurricane Sandy and tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest this fall. “God gives us lots of things,” Horner said of the natural disasters. Addition and new plans When the addition was built over 10 years ago, it created more space for meeting rooms, offices and Sunday school rooms. It also provided space for a special room for those with developmental disabilities. With the added space, Adrienne Buboltz said it has allowed First Lutheran to open its doors to the community and lend its space to others. “It opens it up for many, many things,” Larry Buboltz added. “It opens the doors to life in Christ,” Peterson said. There have been multiple concerts in the church. The space has been utilized for 4-H meetings, Girl Scouts and Boys Scouts meetings, piano recitals and competitions, weddings, anniversaries and many other celebrations. It provided space for a preschool, a library, handicapped accessible bathrooms, a new youth space, decent nursery space and a more convenient elevator. It also provided for a better outdoor worship area during the summer. Five actions While the mission of the church may be “Opening doors to Christ,” that can mean something different to each congregant that walks through those doors. “We recognize everything we have comes through the Lord,” Sukke said. “We’ve got a story to tell, and with open doors, we can tell it,” Peterson said. He said that there are five points the church stresses: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity. “We open our doors by practicing those five,” he said. “Not just hospitality, but radical hospitality.” A few times a year, the church encourages its members to give $101 outside of the church. That’s a part of the extravagant generosity the church practices, Peterson said. “As a new member, I can validate those five practices,” Kemmer said. And they are still practicing, Peterson added. With the 100-year anniversary coming in 2017, the church is looking to not only celebrate the first 100 years, but also to prepare for the next 100. “We really need to be done and ready to begin,” Peterson said, in preparation for the 100-year anniversary. Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.