When the community outreach ministries of missions-minded Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Gainesville overflowed their space, it was clear that a new multipurpose building was needed.
Even more clear was where the church would turn for help financing it — the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s Development Fund.
Church leaders and members knew they’d get a competitive interest rate, but they also knew they’d be getting it from a source that cares about mission and ministry as much as they do.
Millions in loans since 1976
The fund offers low-interest loans that give Florida Conference churches, agencies and missions the resources they need to make their worship, learning and gathering spaces optimal for ministry. And it was the foresight of the foundation’s first executive director, the Rev. Dr. Robert C. Holmes, which made that mission a reality.
A retired conference pastor who served six pastoral appointments and as district superintendent of four districts, Holmes led the foundation through the fund’s establishment in 1976. It was created to support the repair and renovation, refinancing, and building and expansion needs of churches. The Rev. Dr. H. Paul Smith became its first appointed executive director.
The fund’s first church loan was made in 1978 — $150,000 to First United Methodist Church in Perry for construction of a new fellowship hall and education building. Since then, the fund has provided $290 million in loans to Florida churches and agencies. And this year, it made its first loan to a church outside the conference — First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe in the Panhandle — in partnership with the Alabama-West Florida United Methodist Foundation.
Churches aren’t the only ones that benefit, however. Any Florida resident may invest in the fund, earning an interest rate that is often higher than investors can get with certificates of deposit and savings accounts.
“It is a good win-win kind of thing,” said the Rev. Archie Buie, a retired Florida Conference pastor who has held a personal account in the Development Fund since the 1970s. “It’s a good way to be a good steward of your own finances and help the Methodist Church, too.”
More a mission than a bank
The foundation’s mission is closely aligned with that of the Florida Conference: to serve churches, to support healthy church growth and grow the kingdom of God. The fund does the same. Its goal is not to make money, but rather bring investors and borrowers together in the most efficient and effective way for the benefit of God’s work through the church in Florida.
And lending through the fund generates revenue for the foundation, money that is then returned to churches and conference agencies as grants to strengthen and foster ministry.
“We view ourselves more as a mission than a bank,” says Andy Craske, the foundation’s vice president of loans and investments.
For churches like Mt. Pleasant in Gainesville, that makes all the difference.
“As United Methodists, we’re a connection. There’s a sense of family. There’s understanding. We are all a part of building disciples of Jesus Christ and God’s transformation in the world,” said the Rev. Dr. Geraldine McClellan, pastor of the church.
Mt. Pleasant received a $500,000 loan through the fund to build a 3,200-square-foot multipurpose building that will house its growing ministries and complete restoration work on the 149-year-old church’s historic buildings. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held March 27 — Easter Sunday — in front of a huge sign reading, “the man on the middle cross told me I could come,” a reference to Luke 23:43.
The fund has had a tremendous ministry impact on a church that is all about missions, McClellan said. Ministries to benefit from the added space include a clothes closet, food bank, Narcotics Anonymous, and services for the homeless. The new facility will also allow Mt. Pleasant’s missions outreach to operate much more smoothly, she said.
In the life of the fund, there has never been a foreclosure on a church loan. And while loans typically have 15- to 20-year terms, the average life of a church loan through the fund is between seven and eight years. Congregations pay off their debt faster than borrowers of other types of commercial lending.
“That’s true,” McClellan said. “Even though we make monthly payments, we also make additional principal payments. When people see that lives are being touched and changed, they want to give (to the ministry).”
Not just building, but kingdom building
In 2011, the Development Fund made its largest loan ever — $6 million to New Covenant United Methodist Church in The Villages to refinance an existing bank loan and build a 40,000-square-foot addition to the church.
New Covenant, cited by well-known church strategist Len Wilson in 2015 as among the top 25 fastest-growing United Methodist churches in the nation, began exploring funding for its building program with commercial banks. Bank response being “not great,” the Rev. Harold Hendren, then newly appointed as the church’s senior pastor, suggested church members consider the Development Fund.
“The foundation bends over backwards to help the church grow,” said Hendren, whose previous church, Boynton Beach United Methodist Church, had also secured a loan through the fund. “This is about building the kingdom of God, and they get that. It’s not just making another dollar. They are very thorough, very fair, do an excellent job, and are extremely easy to work with.”
The fund financed a multipurpose building and space for the choir, the youth ministry, classrooms and offices. With congregational response exceeding pledges for the building fund, Hendren says the church hopes to pay off the loan in the next six to seven years.
New Covenant continues to grow in its new space in the heart of The Villages and now in a second location to the south, near Wildwood. Church leaders are discussing plans for a 30,000-square-foot multi-site building for its second campus.
When they are ready to build, the Development Fund will be there for them once again — as it will be for other churches wanting to expand or renovate their facilities in the future. They’ll have many questions to answer, but one question has been answered for them.
“The Development Fund will always be a better alternative than banks for churches,” Craske said.
Throughout 2016, the foundation will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. This story is one in a series sharing highlights from the foundation’s ministry over the years and plans for the future. Those stories and information about the foundation’s “Mad About the Future” 50th anniversary event and new Future Generations Fund are available at www.fumf.org.
* Chamberlain is director of operations and communications at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida.