It’s no secret that Church Building & Loan Fund has a history of helping churches purchase property and renovate buildings, but now the organization is doubling its impact – which is good news for congregations.
CB&LF and the United Church of Christ-related Cornerstone Fund are joining forces to make it easier for congregations to grow and better serve their communities.
Both organizations offer financing for church development but with different emphases. Cornerstone often works with older, more established congregations, while CB&LF specializes in churches younger than 30 years.
“We have the same end goal, and it doesn’t make sense to do the same thing separately,” says Cornerstone Fund’s new president, Maria Coyne, who stepped into the position last year. “By coming together, we free up our operating costs to put them into existing gaps so we can grow with the resources we already have.”
In previous years, the two entities simply co-existed, but CB&LF’s executive director, the Rev. Dr. Patrick Duggan, knew change needed to happen when he began encountering two problems: church leaders confused about where to go for help, and others who attempted to get the two organizations to out-bid one another.
“What we’re trying to do is create one front door for churches to come to, and then we get them to the right place,” Coyne says. “We want people to realize that between the two of us, we have the economic resources they need.”
Although both organizations issue loans to churches, they provide varied services. Cornerstone offers investment opportunities for individuals, UCC churches and UCC-related entities, while CB&LF provides consultative services for congregational planning and capital campaigns.
To increase accessibility and lessen confusion for leaders seeking assistance, Coyne and Duggan plan to create later this year a single online portal where churches submit requests and then get directed to the most suitable organization for the task.
“As far as the church is concerned, they’re working with one entity,” Duggan says. “Church leaders will come to us with their needs or thoughts, and we’ll be able to appropriately send them where they need to go.”
For future projects in which CB&LF and Cornerstone combine resources in one loan agreement with separate funds, Duggan and Coyne will visit the church and offer leaders a single line of communication to ensure a unified and simplified process.
Both organizations are determined to help church leaders know their options and where to find help when it comes to their largest asset: their property.
“In declining membership and rising costs or communities with housing shortages or lack of available properties, we have churches that are largely under-utilized and pitched by developers in all kinds of ways,” Duggan says, emphasizing the need for economic expertise to steward buildings and property.
When leaders can get the information and tools they need easier, the potential for community impact grows – something that St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Louisville, Ky., can attest to.
The church faced big decisions about what to do with its property – an entire city block – as funds declined and lead paint forced it to relocate. CB&LF and Cornerstone saw potential to radically impact the church’s urban neighborhood and draw other organizations into a partnership.
In doing so, the two organizations spearheaded an $8-million project that includes mixed-use retail and office space adjacent to a $30-million federally funded affordable housing redevelopment. One more result: the 150-year-old St. Peter’s sanctuary will be renovated, becoming a center of renewal at the heart of a wider community transformation.
“We are deeply involved in the redevelopment of the community to bring life and resurrection – that’s what we do as Christians, and that’s what we do with our resources,” Duggan says.
He recognizes that church leaders often lack the economic expertise that he and Coyne offer, and he sees in the Louisville project a model for how they will marshal their organizations’ resources to attract additional investment for church and economic development elsewhere.
“We know church and community leaders want to be part of something big in their communities,” he says. “We’re bringing our expertise and passion that they know they need to accomplish something significant.”
The CB&LF and Cornerstone partnership is just the beginning as the two groups pursue more opportunities to benefit congregations and their communities.
“Our history is one of being on the cutting edge of social justice and of where the progressive Christian values are brought to bear in society,” Duggan says. “What more important place is that needed than in the economy?”