Financing faith — committed to helping churches achieve God-given vision
By Scott Harrup
Pastor Ron Bontrager of Lakeview Church in Indianapolis knew he and his leadership team were moving in the right direction. They had prayed, planned and solicited congregational involvement as they looked to expand facilities for the 2,000-strong church.
In 2006 Lakeview was poised to carry out a $14-million construction project. The investment wasn’t aimed at flash-in-the-pan architecture, but at the fundamentals of family ministry. The nursery, preschool, children’s ministries, youth and prayer areas of the campus were to be radically expanded. But five years of planning, culminating in a capital campaign, had brought in $2.7 million in pledges.
“We decided to take a step of faith, borrow what we didn’t have, and move the church forward,” Bontrager says.
Pastor Scott Wilson of The Oaks Fellowship in Red Oak, Texas, in greater Dallas, looks back on a similar challenge. Scott and father Tom Wilson are co-pastors of the Red Oak congregation that serves as a hub for three church campuses. Eventually, the Wilsons want to see 12 locations serving families across the Dallas metroplex.
The Oaks Fellowship’s $27 million building program for three locations included expanding the first church, building a 3,500-seat auditorium at the second (which was holding four capacity services each Sunday morning) and refurbishing a third to include a charter school and Master’s Commission.
The biggest challenge was the second location on a developing stretch of Interstate 35.
“We couldn’t get a good appraisal on our property because we’re in a new area,” Wilson says. “We have 75 acres on I 35. It’s in an area where we’re bringing in all the utilities. Nobody had a building. There was nobody to get comps on.”
Both congregations discovered a committed partner in ministry when AG Financial Solutions (AGFS) came into the picture.
“The bottom line is they just believed in us and what we were trying to do,” Bontrager says. “They took an enormous step of faith with us.”
“They came in at the beginning and worked very diligently to help us structure a loan in a way that would work for us,” Wilson says. “I don’t know if we could have stepped forward without them.”
AGFS also helped The Oaks Fellowship organize a capital campaign to bring in needed funds as bridge financing. Sacrificial giving on the part of attending families has brought in money to pay for the immediate stages of the project.
“In the last 19 months, we’ve been able to put $5 million into the building project in cash,” Wilson says.
Offering loans for new construction, capital expansion projects, renovation, refinance, and property acquisitions for ministry projects, AGFS is one of the largest church-lending institutions in America and has partnered with more than 1,900 customers to make available $1.6 billion for ministry expansion. It is difficult to envision 1,900 ministries and that much funding, but individual churches like Lakeview and The Oaks connect those figures with everyday families in need of an array of outreaches.
Both churches represent long-established Assemblies of God ministries.
Lakeview will be 90 years old in May. Founded by Pentecostal pioneer Maria Woodworth Etter, the church was first a hub for her national evangelistic and healing ministry, then continued to grow under the 61-year combined ministry of pastors Thomas Paino Sr. and Thomas Paino Jr.
The Oaks traces its history to a 1921 tent revival held by Will Bolen in South Dallas. Bolen came with a canvas tent, kerosene lanterns and a passion to share the gospel. The small group of believers from those meetings built the church The Oaks Fellowship would call home for some 40 years. The building still stands just behind the Dallas Zoo.
Lakeview and The Oaks’ current locations and expanded facilities have created new ministry opportunities.
“We’ve already grown by about 200 people since finishing this building,” Bontrager says. “The church is reaching a lot of new families. The expansion has made all the difference in the world.”
“AGFS has come in and made available funds that have allowed us to go to the next level,” Wilson says. “Without them, we would be forced to keep a 900-seat auditorium to serve 2,300 people and more on Sunday morning. They’re packing in. And just last Sunday 20 people accepted Christ.”
AGFS’ nationwide team of consultants, most with pastoral experience, view their services as ministry.
After 19 years in health care administration, North Central Representative Randy Smith served as business administrator at his home church, Glad Tidings Church in Omaha, Neb., before joining AGFS. Smith has a heart for foreign missions and has participated in several medical missions trips to Guatemala. He has also ministered in Asia and the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
Northwest Representative Wendell Kruger pastored in Oregon and Washington for 26 years and has been a member and chairman of the Northwest District Finance Committee as well as a sectional presbyter and executive presbyter for the Northwest District.
AGFS’ distinctive is that interest paid, whether from construction loans, permanent financing, or credit lines, is not lost to the world, but invested in Kingdom purposes, providing income to charitable trust funds, ministers’ retirements, world missions, and thousands of other ministries.
“Where else are you going to be able to invest your money to not only have a strong return for your retirement or personal needs, but also to invest that money for the Kingdom to be advanced?” Wilson asks. “If people in our Fellowship had not put their money into AGFS, we wouldn’t be getting the loan that has allowed us to expand and in just this past year see more than 1,000 people receive Christ.”
“The beautiful thing about AGFS is they advance the kingdom of God by taking steps of faith that are every bit as much a step as the church,” Bontrager says. “An investment in AGFS helps give churches a chance, enabling them to move forward with the vision God has given.”
“We don’t need just another bank,” Wilson says. “We don’t need another investment firm out there. We need a partnership with people who pray, seek God, and join with us in making a difference.”
SCOTT HARRUP is senior associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at sharrup.agblogger.org.
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