“A business, such as a restaurant, knows that it is good business to maintain and update their facilities and be inviting to customers. As churches, our facilities need to not only be inviting to the members of the congregation but also the entire community,” said Rev. Steve Ziebarth, who serves at the United Methodist Church in Canton, South Dakota.
The congregation in Canton came to the realization, after years of discussion, that they needed to prepare their facility for the future. “This year, we celebrate 150 years of ministry,” says Ziebarth. “It was decided that we could no longer delay or ignore the maintenance of the building. We need to plan for the future.”
The leadership team looked at improvements that were needed including the church parking lot, signage, and sprucing up the interior. The price tag for improvements was $235,000, and there was only $35,000 in the bank.
A team of leaders from the congregation set a date for the 150-year celebration and began to make a plan for facilities improvement. The group quickly realized they needed support and invited Jeff Pospisil, who serves as executive director of finance and administration for the Dakotas Conference, to provide some leadership and advice.
Pospisil advised the group to hold a Miracle Sunday. A Miracle Sunday is a type of capital campaign. Traditional capital campaigns ask congregants to make pledges to be paid usually in a time span of three years. A Miracle Sunday focuses on a one-time giving event.
“At a Miracle Sunday, practically all the money is given on one day,” explains Pospisil. “A church can usually raise the equivalent to 50% and 100% of its annual budget. Most often, churches will choose a Miracle Sunday to retire debt or a major renovation project.”
The leadership team identified a theme, Paving Our Way to the Future, and put a marketing plan in place. The plan, to prepare for the Miracle Sunday, included letters, video messages, personal conversations, and prayer.
Pospisil describes the decision to move forward with the Miracle Sunday this way. “I met with the church’s trustees as they were discerning whether or not to move forward and offered to assist. The estimated cost of the project was $235,000. The church usually only receives $200,000 for annual budget expenditures. This was an enormous step of faith, for the congregation and me. I had zero experience helping with a Miracle Sunday. The last Miracle Sunday Canton did in 2013 fell short. After the decision was made to move forward, we went to the parking lot and prayed.”
The United Methodist Church in Canton, South Dakota, has nurtured 14 people into ministry who are called to serve as elders, deacons, youth ministry leaders, and mission ministry leaders. The church building has a hall of fame wall featuring former pastors and those clergy the congregation has nutured. A key marketing strategy was to bring that wall to life so that the church can remember its legacy.
A series of seven videos were produced and shared weekly, at the worship services, leading up to the Miracle Sunday. The videos were a fun and compelling way of keeping the fundraising effort before the congregation and brought the people from the wall of fame to life. Reverends Bob Ruedebusch, Dar Berkenpas, DeAnn Eidem, Greg Kroger, Mark Holland, Rod Gist, and Ron Johnson were interviewed for the videos.
Four letters went out to the congregation before Miracle Sunday. The letters addressed the facts and need for the capital improvements. The theme reminded people of the congregation’s ministry legacy and the spiritual nature of the campaign.
Personal conversations took place through individual visits from the pastor. Pastor Steve spent time answering questions and encouraging members of the congregation to practice extravagant generosity.
Pospisil and Sheri Meister, who serves as the executive director of the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation, hosted gatherings to talk about the project and suggest alternative ways of giving besides just a check. The leadership team at Canton UMC asked for some specific guidance from the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation on how to connect with donors for legacy giving opportunities such as annuities and endowments.
“We discussed legacy giving opportunities with Canton,” says Sheri Meister. “We partner with churches to help them decide if the timing is right for a capital campaign and to help the church align the campaign with the mission and core values of the church.”
The Miracle Sunday was held on Palm Sunday, 2019. A total of $240,000 in funding was collected.
“It was amazing,” says Pospisil, “Sheri and I both attended this event as kind of cheerleaders. I felt moved to donate.”
The parking lot is now paved and in great shape at the United Methodist Church in Canton, South Dakota. Every room inside the church building was painted, and new flooring is in place. A more expansive doorway to enter the sanctuary welcomes everyone who comes. A new digital sign will serve as a greeting to announce key events.
September 28-29, Canton UMC celebrated 150 years of ministry. The celebration started with a meal for mothers and others, with a speaker, followed by an open house to view the renovations and historical displays. Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, delivered the message at worship on Sunday, along with the performance of several musical groups—children’s groups, bells, choir, praise team— from the congregation. A banquet, featuring former pastors, the Highlanders singing group from Dakota Wesleyan University, concluded the ministry celebration.
“We have a facility that is inviting to use not only for worship but for the entire community,” says Ziebarth. “It is important to invite others to use the facility— 4-H, AA, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other community groups.”
Learn more about Canton UMC at their Facebook Page.
Contact the Dakotas Conference Finance Office for stewardship resources here.
Contact the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation for legacy giving opportunities here.