Written by Anthony Moujaes
A new initiative from the United Church of Christ’s Church Building & Loan Fund is designed to help the ministry live more fully into its mission of offering assistance to churches establishing themselves in a community. The program, Partners In Vision, will assist local congregations to make the most of their undeveloped resources – in many cases, land or property – and help them develop the resource to generate a new revenue stream, and save a little money in the process through CB&LF’s below-market loan rates.
The bottom line: Partners In Vision helps bring to life projects that are sustainable, innovative and mission-driven.
"Partners in Vision is a way for us to devote high-level planning and technical assistance to the large or complex building projects that more churches are approaching the Church Building & Loan Fund to help them with," said the Rev. Patrick Duggan, executive director of CB&LF. "With AIM Development Group and other church real estate development experts, CB&LF is providing premium quality services at minimal cost to churches."
The Church Building & Loan Fund, a ministry of the UCC Local Church Ministries, assists new and renewing congregations with loan programs, capital campaign services, planning (Partners in Building) and technical-assistance programs (Partners in Vision), among other services. The Partners in Vision (PIV) initiative launched in May 2013, and is expected to invest more than $1 million in the first four years. AIM Development is a New York-based economic development organization that CB&LF has partnered with to implement Partners In Vision.
"This advances the mission of the UCC and Church Building & Loan Fund," Duggan said. "It touches on our mission, and the reality is it’s an expensive world of real estate and planning. One of the most expensive parts is pre-development. But financing and planning are part of our charter."
Asked why a congregation or other religious organization should opt for the PIV program, Duggan suggested three areas he thinks make sense.
"First, through PIV, you will discern the highest and best use of your land or building, in accordance with the mission of the church, at the lowest possible cost," he said. "Second, more than likely, a church cannot afford this level of expertise on its own. Third, through PIV, the UCC is offering a service you cannot get from a bank or other church financing entity: high-level, pre-development services at a nominal cost."
PIV isn’t limited to congregations within the denomination. "This is available to any church, be it UCC or beyond," Duggan said. That should be welcome news for faith leaders, who typically do not have experience in real-estate development.
How does the program work? It’s fairly straightforward in its approach. A church that owns property can turn to CB&LF for assistance, and CB&LF will seek out opportunities and develop a work plan to turn the untapped resource into a revenue stream. From there, CB&LF works with the congregation to bring that vision to life by offering assistance through the pre-development and development process.
One of the first partners was the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries conference, retreat, and educational facility in North Carolina. Franklinton Center at Bricks just launched work on a three-year vision plan, beginning with the renovation of one building in the first year that will house a museum and welcome center. Franklinton Center at Bricks relies on donations, but the surrounding area in North Carolina is the fourth-poorest congressional district and one of the largest food deserts in the United States.
"But the land there – all 250 acres – is a resource, so we can build that up to strengthen their philanthropic support," Duggan said. Through PIV and AIM Development, Franklinton will get an overhaul to part of its facilities, and in the future can develop partnerships to host more events and generate alternative revenue than just donations.
"It’s a way of being more deeply involved within the United Church of Christ," said Vivian Lucas, director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks. "It’s a 36-40 months project with the goal of infusing economic vitality in Franklinton Center."
More than 550 churches throughout the United States are loan partners with CB&LF. CB&LF makes loans of up to $2.5 million at below-market interest rates, and can partner with other lenders for larger projects.