Before I answer that question, permit me to share an experience from nearly 20 years ago. In the fall of 2001, a month or so after September 11th, I attended a New Church Summit in Indianapolis led by Rick Morse—then, the new Director of New Church Ministry. Only a couple of months earlier I’d moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to Lincoln, Nebraska with my wife, Elizabeth, where I’d accepted a call to plant a new church. That weeklong retreat was my first real encounter with Church Extension, now called Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF). I arrived for that summit not knowing what to expect but with a sense of hope and excitement for this new church journey that was beginning—a roller coaster ride that the bar had just drawn down over my lap. I also arrived carrying the weight of what was before me, along with an omnipresent feeling of fear—the great enemy of faith.
Five days later, after all the workshops, speakers, prayer and worship, I left with two lasting impressions that carried me forward for the next 16 years of that ministry. First, it was during that week-long event, at an ordinary afternoon session, that the Holy Spirit nudged me in a very real and profound way to go talk to a specific person back in Nebraska, a person I had just met the previous week. The Spirit impressed upon me at that precise moment that God was preparing a piece of property, a home, for our yet-to-be-formed or named new church. A few weeks later God delivered, through the generosity of a stranger, a three million dollar, ten-acre, piece of property to erect a new church building one day—even if we did not yet have any members. I have always felt Church Extension played a role in that modern-day miracle.
Secondly, I left that week with greater appreciation and conviction that this General Church Ministry, Church Extension, was doing vital ministry. I had not expected that. I also left with a full cup because of the energy and spirituality of the entire Church Extension staff that organized the event. From the then President (Jim Powell) on down, the people of Church Extension were passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ and helping congregations thrive. I returned to Nebraska knowing that my work in this new church plant was being supported, cared for, and surrounded in prayer by a much larger group of people than I imagined, a great cloud of witnesses.
That is a long way to say that perhaps the most important thing that DCEF is doing to help your congregation through COVID-19 is that we are praying for you. I’ve served as an advisor at DCEF for three years now. At virtually every leadership meeting I attend, we pray for our congregations, for the work of the church, for pastors and lay leaders. We spend countless hours thinking of new ways in which we might be able to better serve the congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I’m certain we don’t always get things right, but I do know that we work tirelessly to help churches move forward in life-giving ministry.
DCEF recognizes that the COVID-19 virus is placing unprecedented challenges and strains on congregational life, including finances. To this end, DCEF continues to help congregations apply for PPP loans. DCEF also recently rolled out a new Emergency Loan designed to offer relief from a loss of operational giving during this pandemic. This low-interest loan requires no payments for 12 months. DCEF also understands that churches likely will be operating online for the next year and beyond. To help congregations with this new reality, DCEF is also using the Emergency Loan to help congregations upgrade their technology (cameras, video equipment, sound equipment, and technology infrastructure). This might be a good time for a congregation to invest in its online presence.
Something that is often overlooked at DCEF is that we are a great place for congregations and individuals to invest congregational resources and assets. DCEF is a ministry that offers short- and long-term investment notes. Investing in our notes helps provide loans to other Disciples of Christ congregations to advance the ministry of the gospel. As we like to say, congregations and individuals get to “do great while doing good.” And although the virus has curtailed our travel and services in the short term, DCEF stands ready to serve you and your congregation with our regular line of services including traditional Building Loans, Investments, Capital Campaigns, Building Evaluations, Architectural Consultations, and Hope Partnership Services.
Finally, I go back to my initial introduction to the ministry of Church Extension back in 2001 when I was a frightened 27-year-old new church planter. The theme of that transformative week in the life of my ministry came from the prophet Jeremiah (29:11).
“For surely I know the plans I have for you said the Lord, plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Those prophetic words continue to ring true today during this crisis just as they did nearly two decades ago as the country dug out of the September 11thattacks and as a new congregation in Nebraska was beginning to take shape. DCEF believes in the ministry and vitality of congregations. Yes, our ministry is one of lending and helping congregations create holy spaces, but it is also one of prayer, vision and hope. Each loan we give is an act of faith believing that God has a future with hope for every congregation we serve. We, at DCEF, believe that the church is still the hope of the world and we are proud to be your partner during this COVID-19 moment.
Rev. Dr. Craig Walls consults on loans, fundraising campaigns, and other services available from DCEF. Prior to joining DCEF, Craig spent more than 15 years as pastor of SouthPointe Christian Church in Lincoln, NE, where he engaged in building projects, capital campaigns, and creative land lease/use opportunities for the congregation. Craig received his BA from Hiram College, a Master of Divinity from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, and a Doctor of Ministry in Homiletics from McCormick Theological Seminary. Craig and his wife, Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, President of William Jewell College, make their home in Liberty, Missouri, with their sons Alec and John.
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.