As the oldest institution of its kind in the United States, the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund draws on its trailblazing history to give direction to the future.
The Fund’s mission of church renewal dates to its founding in 1853. Today, that mission is as relevant as ever, says the Fund’s executive director, the Rev. Dr. Patrick Duggan.
“These are perhaps the most exciting and challenging times in the history of CB&LF," he says. “We are in the midst of the most severe upheaval in the history of Christianity in the U.S.”
To guide congregations through the tumult, CB&LF seeks to clarify and proclaim its long-standing position as champion of churches, with tools to secure their future.
“The miracle of the Fund is that it has evolved and grown through more than 160 years of up and down economic cycles,” Duggan says. “Through the decades, the Fund has maintained a focus on assisting churches with all kinds of building projects.”
Those projects include purchasing, constructing, upgrading and renovating church buildings for uses that transform ministry and community.
The Fund itself has transformed a great deal from its pre-Civil War origins.
The country’s first church building society, as such funds were then known, was founded by the American Congregational Union at a gathering in Albany, New York.
Congregationalists, who 100 years later helped form the United Church of Christ, achieved great success with their nascent society. In its first year, the group built about 200 churches in Ohio — the country’s Western frontier at the time.
Over the next 75 years, other Christian groups launched similar initiatives. Today’s CB&LF is the successor to an organization formed by the merger of building societies affiliated with the Congregationalist, Christian, Evangelical and Reformed denominations. The Fund was established as a nonprofit, UCC-affiliated corporation in 2007.
From the beginning, Duggan says, building societies affiliated with the church saw their purpose as not only providing places to worship but also serving a bigger cause.
“It is noteworthy that these societies were seen from the very beginning as initiatives to advance the mission of the church,” Duggan says. “Mission, not bricks and mortar, was their primary purpose.”
The aim of the fund remains the same — mission is the motive — although some of the methods have changed, Duggan says.
The early Congregationalists, for example, funded day-to-day operating costs, such as pastoral salaries. Today’s CB&LF has a wider focus, offering mortgages for building projects that empower churches to sustain themselves financially.
The financials of the Fund itself have also greatly changed. Church building societies of the past had to constantly seek donations, Duggan says. Today’s Fund remains robust through principal and interest payments, investments and overall prudent management.
A little known constant, he says, is that the overwhelming majority of churches make on-time loan payments. But that’s not surprising, because the Fund helps churches to succeed.
“Many churches do not know that CB&LF can help them orchestrate capital campaigns to raise large sums of money for special needs, or help church leaders with financial and other planning, or help them find cost-effective solutions to just about any church real estate challenge,” Duggan says.
To find solutions to those challenges, the CB&LF uses its history. “From our digitized church records, CB&LF staff can retrieve over 160 years of data on financial and church building projects that the Fund has conducted with all kinds of churches,” Duggan says.
Now more than ever, he says, mutually-beneficial partnerships between church building funds and churches must flourish.
“Less than 100 organizations like the CB&LF exist to serve the 300,000 churches in the U.S. today,” he says. “There are just a handful organizations with both the financial expertise and missional focus to serve congregations in a time when they need help the most.”
It’s important, Duggan says, for church leaders to recognize that the Fund’s mission-driven history compels it to serve churches then, now and forever.
“The Fund honors its history by embracing the challenges of the church today,” he says.