Elevating Your Church’s Funding to New Heights with Phil Ling

Thanks for tuning in to the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with generosity expert Phil Ling today. He offers strategic and energetic leadership to The Giving Church consulting team, helping churches fuel their ministries.

The largest transfer of wealth in the world is going on right now. With four generations alive at the same time, churches must adapt their strategies to cater to diverse age groups and their distinct giving behaviors. Tune in as Phil offers help on creating a culture of generosity, understanding giving metrics, and executing successful vision campaigns.

  • Increase participation. // 45% of the people in the average church give less than $200 a year. While there’s no silver bullet to fixing this problem, it’s important to remember that God built His church around intentional generosity. Every year churches lose 18% of their people. Even when you grow in attendance, more people don’t necessarily solve your money problems. Instead, your number one goal should be how to raise participation while building intentional generosity.
  • Offer more to the community. // Some churches tackle fundraising by creating multiple revenue streams. Think about a way your church can serve the community you’re in. For one church that looked like building a state-of-the-art event center attached to their location, creating a steady income stream. Instead of constructing a church building, another church transformed an Anheuser-Busch distribution center into an athletic training facility, attracting 500,000 paying visitors annually. Then their portable church meets in the facility on Sundays. You can use something your community needs to both draw people to your church and increase revenue.
  • Pay attention to giving metrics. // Your job as the pastor of a church is to lead by example, cast a compelling vision, and raise the generosity quotient. People aren’t giving to the church like they did in the past. If you want to change that, it’s crucial that you understand and analyze your giving metrics in order to gauge the church’s financial health.
  • Celebrate giving. // Vision campaigns create an opportunity for people to feel a sense of urgency to take steps to participate. Ask yourself how do you encourage someone to give money for the first time? What is your strategy? How do you celebrate and communicate about people doing that? How much an individual gives isn’t important, but celebrating the fact that they contributed to the mission is. Communicate the impact of generosity and provide multiple, convenient ways for people to give.
  • Fuel vision. // If you’re going to do a vision campaign, you need to measure mobilization. How many people will get attached to your vision? Leaders cast vision, but generosity fuels vision. Churches must build a track record of transparency and accountability to gain the congregation’s trust. This involves providing regular updates on the campaign’s progress and financial status, and celebrating key milestones and achievements to keep the congregation motivated and engaged.
  • Financial analysis. // Phil advises churches to conduct a thorough financial analysis before embarking on major projects. This involves examining giving data over time to understand income sources, giving patterns, and capacity for funding projects. Use The Giving Church’s financial analysis as a tool for discipleship and stewardship. By categorizing giving units based on their trends (above pace, on pace, falling down, or in the watch category), churches can proactively engage with members facing challenges and provide support.

You can learn more about how The Giving Church can help increase your generosity, and download the free PDF 5 Ways to Grow Your Giving at www.thegivingchurch.com.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Portable Church

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey, everybody welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Man, I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation. You know, every once in a while I get to have somebody on the podcast who um, you know, I know in real life, have had an a chance to interact offline, and today’s one of those days. Excited to have Phil Ling back on the podcast. Ah, he provides both strategic and energetic leadership and direction to The Ling Group and The Giving Church consulting team. They’ve worked with nearly a thousand churches of all sizes and over 40 different denominations, if we’re counting correctly. And this is the number I say all the time, I said you know you know that Phil Ling guy? He’s helped churches raise a billion dollars that’s with a “B” – that’s incredible. So he’s amazing guy, been in this for quite a while, worked with friends like the Billy Graham association, Franklin Graham, um Injoy with John Maxwell, great great guy. Phil, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here. Welcome back to the show.

Phil Ling — Honored to hang out with you.

Rich Birch — Thanks for being here. This is going to be good. Well fill in the picture, you know, there are people who would have listened but kind of give us the the 2 minute Phil Ling story, fill in that picture a little bit, tell us a little bit about ah yourself before we jump into today’s conversations

Phil Ling — I call it the “how great I am” part. This is the “how great I am” speech. Ah so yes, when you’re trying to sell something. It’s like let me tell you how great I am. So first I am ah I grew up in a pastor’s house. My dad was a church planter and planted a church in Ohio. And so I grew up there and he never moved so I was one of those preacher’s kids that never moved. And then when I came out of college I planted a church in Seattle in the Seattle area and hung out there for 10 years. God blessed us, did a lot of cool stuff, got to help start school.

Phil Ling — And change gears, ah, did some radio talk show stuff with Salem radio that’s across all across the country. But that introduced me to a guy named John Maxwell. Ah I became executive president of John’s company and for 8 years ran around the country with John and which was ah a hoot.

Phil Ling — And whenever the phone rang and at Linda that meant John that was his assistant and that meant it was fun either I was in trouble or something fun to do. And that was cool ah, but at long story short he wanted to downsize some things and I didn’t want to work for anybody else because he’s too good. And I slid over to become vice president Billy Graham Association. And they were going through a huge change. They had just moved the headquarters from Minneapolis where it had been for 50 years to Charlotte, North Carolina. If you fly into North Carolina and Charlotte and the airport you’re on Billy Graham Parkway. And so that’s right where they are. Address, I think, is number 1 Billy Graham Parkway.

Rich Birch — That’s amazing.

Phil Ling — And they built the library and all kinds of cool stuff. I got to fly in on Mondays, home on Thursdays for a period of time and helped them build ah a revenue stream that was more twenty first century. Because they had invented direct mail basically in the 50s. They were the kings. And now direct mail is different and everybody’s aging and how do we do that and embrace technology and all that kind of stuff. So they were gracious, but they also opened the door for me to have my shingle and work with folks and so I did both. And eventually transitioned.

Phil Ling — So we’ve got two little worlds. The Giving Church – we work with churches. The Ling Group – we work with faith-based nonprofits. Those those are our two little worlds. We’re a boutique group, relationships, all that stuff. I love church planters because I used to have hair and I used to be a church planter.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Phil Ling — And that is our deal and I here I this is longer than the two minutes you asked for. Why do I still do what I do?

Rich Birch — It’s all good. It’s good.

Phil Ling — I’ve got I got two and a half million Delta miles just so that registers – all domestic. Not not international. Those guys cheat they go really long trips.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phil Ling — I do national. So the reason I still get on planes and do that stuff. I know that if I show up at a church or a organization and say, hey what are you guys really dealing with right now? It’s going to be usually facilities, finance, um facilities, finance and personnel. It’s one of the three areas. And all those relate back to money. And it’s like Okay, how do we pay for that stuff?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — What are we gonna do? How are we gonna do it? And most leaders… I always tease, the only guys that like to ask for money go to jail. Most leaders aren’t well aren’t comfortable with that stuff. And they haven’t had a lot of training in that stuff.

Rich Birch — Yes. Yep.

Phil Ling — And they haven’t really the people that they’re helping with it often have never sat in their chair. And so I’ve got those scars and sat in that chair.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — And so that’s where I come from. It’s like how do we raise leaders attached on the vision?How do we build intentional generosity? And how do we do that in 2024?

Rich Birch — So good. Yeah, so good. Well Phil was ah part of ah a retreat we did with… We do this we have a small cohort called the Church Growth Incubator and Phil was with us for a couple days and it was it was incredible. I we were joking beforehand. We did a feedback at the end of that survey with everybody that we surveyed everybody that came. And you know all the different parts of the event and all the stuff we did, and Phil was the only thing that was 5 out of 5 of in the thing. People just could not believe how much value he dropped in. And so I’m honored to have him on the podcast today to try to extract some of that. Obviously we can’t get into everything but there’s really kind of a couple conversations. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that you’re coaching and leading churches all across the country around, you know this whole you know how do we help raise more money raise generosity in our church.

Rich Birch —So a couple different questions. First, you know we’re feeling pressure points. Ah you know the the idea of raising money and creating kind of multiple revenue streams. How do we do that as a church? Is you know it it feels like you know how does that connect to creating a culture of generosity? What’s that actually what is that looking like in the here and now today you know, not you know, not fifty years ago? That’s a part of what I love about you. You’re on the cutting edge of you know helping churches in the real world today. When we’re thinking about, particularly multiple revenue streams, help us think that through. What’s that look what is that looking like for in churches today that you you’re working with, that you’re seeing out there?

Phil Ling — Okay, so first of all, it’s a subject I love and I got some great examples I can share with you. But what I always warn everybody: be careful, don’t look for silver silver bullets. There’s there’s not a silver bullet. There’s this to all kinds of little bullets. There’s all kinds of things that we have to do.

Rich Birch — Good. Yep.

Phil Ling — And and one of them is understand understand the landscape today of church, especially North America, of church. So largest wealth transfer in the history of the world going on right now. For the first time in the history of our world. We have four generations alive at the same time. It’s never happened before. So a lot of the folks that have kept your church going as they age and die are transferring their wealth to their heirs. The people that are receiving that are much more consumers of church than stewards of church.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Phil Ling — They sample, they like certain stuff, they move around. Okay, it is what it is. It’s the blameless autopsy. That’s the patient and in the average church in America—and this is less stat that I’ll throw out just because I know nothing about stats except for what smart people do for us—45% of the people in the average church give less than $200 a year. 45% of the people in the average church give less than $200 a year.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Phil Ling — So they’re they’re pre-donors. They’re really not donors. Collectively that whole 45% so nearly after your people give about 1% of your income.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Phil Ling — So you have a couple of different issues. One when I talk about alternate revenue streams, they are important, but they’re they’re not the stable they’re not that, Okay, this is what I need to do.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep, yep.

Phil Ling — It does not take the place it does not take the place of God’s design for his church. So hear that piece.

Rich Birch — Okay, good, good.

Phil Ling — So I believe God designed his his church around intentional generosity.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Phil Ling — So how do we build intentional generosity? And a reason I I shared those stats first because I think why you’re building your intentional generosity, your number one goal in that world is: how do I raise participation? How do I get more people to do it?

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — It’s not how do I squeeze and dry. It’s not how do I shake them upside down. It’s like how do I broaden that participation. Because one other stat I’ll throw in there: in the average church in North America, you lose 18% of your giving units every year. Every year 18% are gone or replaced by somebody else. That’s a churn.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — So those new people coming in are gonna give less than the people that left because they haven’t been there very long. So you’re ah, more people attending doesn’t necessarily solve all your your money problems just because you grew in attendance.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, so true.

Phil Ling — So it’s like okay, that’s that piece. The revenue piece I think there’s I can probably go into a lot of sociological stuff. But what I’ve seen from some of our clients are some really interesting ways to use how people think today to help fund God’s church. So I’ll give you an example. So I have I have a church in the midwest that they, and they’re a large growing church, and God’s blessed them. Um I think they had ah a big baptism they recently and had like 700 baptisms or something crazy. So you know, they’re they’re they’re a cool church. Ah they…

Rich Birch — Wow. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Phil Ling — …they said, you know, if you’re an unchurched person, if you’re a secular person, when do you when are you more open to spiritual thoughts? And they said well one there’s couple of times in your life that often happens. One is when you’re thinking about getting married and when somebody dies and you need to [inaudible]. And so like many at our contemporary churches, they were kind of a big box church. You know it’s really utilitarian, but it’s not necessarily pretty.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Phil Ling — And they said what if we built a a section of our facility, really went face forward into it, and built a really nice state-of-the-art event center kind of a thing that would be fantastic for weddings, fantastic for funerals, and some other stuff like that. And why don’t we do that as a separate org that’s owned by the church so it could actually generate revenue. And then push those funds back.

Phil Ling — Um, and so I started working with them at conception early on. So they’re they’re like a ten year client, and worked all through those those issues.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Phil Ling — We raise money. I think we raised like $8,000,000 ah to get the thing off the ground.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Phil Ling — I was able I’ve been back multiple times, going back next month, but to celebrate with their leaders when the 8,000,000 came in and when the facility was actually finished, and so forth.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Phil Ling — Today they have that facility; it’s called The Reverie. It and I’m not you know my my son’s already married so I don’t have to worry about wedding crap. But in that world if you’re studying do wedding you get on and you look you look at Knot. That used to be like Knot Magazine. Knot everything, deal with Knot.

Rich Birch — Yes, yep, yep yep, tie the knot.

Phil Ling — So they’re the number one Knot wedding venue in the state of Ohio. Number one rated two years in a row.

Rich Birch — Wow. Yep.

Phil Ling — They, it is fantastically thought out from how the kitchen works to how they do events. They’ve got over two hundred events scheduled there this year. Some weddings, funerals, those kind of things of course…

Rich Birch — Wow.

Phil Ling — …but they do corporate events. They worked out deals with hospitals for ongoing education. This is fantastic and they worked out the security how that part of the building can be separated from the other part when it needs to be. All that. And fast forwarding…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Phil Ling — …it now throws back positive cash to the church. And ah…

Rich Birch — Wow!

Phil Ling — …and in they pass the million million dollar mark very quickly. Ah so I don’t…

Rich Birch — Huh, fascinating.

Phil Ling — …when I share those stories and it’s really cool and I take people through it say, hey come visit. We’ll walk you through and show you how they’re doing this stuff. It’s not say, hey do this so you don’t have to ask your people to be generous. That is not how it works. But it is an opportunity using understanding of our society, it says you know what? People expect to pay for these things. And they want to do them in a really cool and nice environment, and hook to ah a healthy church…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — …is a good thing. It gets unchurched people walking into your building…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Phil Ling — …looking around and say, well this is not the freaky thing I thought it might be. You know this looks really cool. This is nice. Maybe I should come back?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s cool. Yeah.

Phil Ling — And then they’ve got great stories.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — Now because it’s been up and operational for a couple of years they got great stories now of people that first came to event, first had a wedding there, ends up coming back to church, accepting Christ, getting involved. They have volunteers that work in The Reverie that came through The Reverie. And now they’re circled back around. The coolest story recently is they had…

Rich Birch — That’s cool.

Phil Ling — …a couple that got married there had their first child and they named the child Reverie. So I thought that was hilarious. Ah so there’s one one story.

Phil Ling — Ah I’ve got a another client that went a different angle. They bought an Anheuser-Busch distribution center. So this thing is huge. You could pull your semi-truck in, unload all the eggs…

Rich Birch — Wow!

Phil Ling — …and wash it before it went out the other side. Monster.

Rich Birch — Yeah, huge thing. Yeah.

Phil Ling — They were a church that had it been they’ve been in existence in a school bouncing around, even though they’re a good sized church, bouncing around for like 15 years. Never had their own space until they bought this. But when they bought it, they did not build a church.

Phil Ling — They built a state-of-the-art athletic training facility. Indoor soccer fields, basketball, anything you can imagine, and they have church in it. So when you go, I’m I’m honored to preach there every fall, and they’ve got this one one section of it that’s for basketball is 3 high school sized gymnasiums all in one big room. And they set it all up.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — Put carpet squares down, pull out the chairs, all that kind of stuff for their 3 services because they do church in this facility that invites unchurched people to come. They have 500,000 paying people a year come through it. Do the math.

Rich Birch — Wow, that’s amazing.

Do the math. So and then…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. That’s cool.

Phil Ling — …their motivation was they live in a very secular city of our country…

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — …that were not receptive to big churches coming in and building big red buildings with steeples

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — And said, what if how do we build something that the community might view as a positive income see…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Phil Ling — …and at the same time it creates revenue. It’s ah it’s a revenue stream.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. Yes.

Phil Ling — So I loved doing the revenue stream stuff got other stories…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — …but I always say this is not in place of generosity.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. That’s good. The um, yeah, that’s something for us to be thinking about I think as we look to the future. I’ve heard this in multiple conversations as you know churches are looking to the future realize, hey we need to kind of stretch our thinking, be thinking you know thinking about a bit outside the box, color a little bit outside the lines, to think about what are some different ways we can engage with the community, and you know how does that kind of work from a ah, revenue model point of view. You talked about something earlier. I love that idea. And we’ll kind of loop back into kind of more traditional kind of the generosity side.

Rich Birch — Um, you talked about increasing participation that, hey that should be our goal that there’s you know where we’re when we’re trying to think about the kind of mass of our church, the people who are are disengaged or aren’t giving or are giving less than $200 a year, talk us through that a little bit. Unpack that – what does that look like? How do we do that? How do we increase participation? What are churches seeing? Because I think we often just think about like the other end of the spectrum when we think about generosity. It’s like I got to engage with high net worth individuals to try to extract more cash out of them. But this is kind of the opposite end of the the spectrum. How do we what does that look like?

Phil Ling — So first of all, this is my soapbox. So you know if you can shut me up on I just keep going rambling on. This is my soapbox. This is nothing. It’s jacked up. I’m jacked up on Mountain Dew. Ah, the I think this is a if you look at what your job is as the pastor of a church, leading leaders never goes away regardless of how large your church gets. You always lead leaders. You always cast vision. You want a vision castor and a lot of echoes of vision. So it’s all clear, clear and it’s all the same vision. And you’re always raising that generosity quotient. Well one of the things in order to do the race to generosity quotient, because I’ve already painted the picture. Society’s changing. People don’t just hang out in your church and decide to tithe. That ain’t happening. And we’re going to have more and more of our church’s crater in the next ten years that still have people in them.

Phil Ling — So we we were used to churches dying where there’s 5 cars. There’s one down from my house. But I see every Sunday when I drive by and I it usually has 9 cars and it’s a cute little church, probably been there 130 years. And it’s got 9 cars. So we’re used to that. Okay everybody has died. It’s it’s dying. What we’re not used to is, well attendance isn’t that much isn’t that far off what it was a year ago, but we keep going down financially. Because the people that are there are consuming your product, not necessarily stewards like their moms and their grandmothers were. So all that’s changed. So all right, if you’re going to change that paradigm, one is you have to to actually pay attention to what’s real. What are the metrics?

Phil Ling — And I’m not a huge numbers person. Hired a guy with a degree in statistics years ago. We studied 4000 churches and how they give money. And we came up with an analysis that we use with our our clients. And it’s it’s what I call and I said I think I said it earlier the blameless autopsy. This is the patient. Let’s look at the patient.

Phil Ling — So number of giving units – at what levels do those those units give you dollars? How many are below that $200 ah year threshold we talked about? We’re 45% usually or below that – let’s see about your church. And then we break it down 200 to 1000, 1000 to 5000, 5- to 10,000, 10,000+. Those are the categories for every church in America – big ones, little ones, doesn’t matter, all those. So you want to see where are you in those categories.

Phil Ling — When we talked about the churn rate – 18% of the your giving units leave in a year. All right. Are you different than that? Maybe you’re higher. Maybe you’re lower. Let’s see what that looks like. Those are things you have… If you don’t know this, and I like I say I’m not a numbers guy, but if you don’t know this then you’re what you do is every year when somebody says, how’s church doing? You go by emotion. Well, it feels good. Feels really good.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — …[inaudible] on Sunday? How things? Oh felt great. People told me it was a great message. It felt great. But if you don’t have some kind of a metric to say, all right, how many new people are coming in? You know, I I come from a a background of churches that that really stressed baptism, water baptism. And one old pastor you say are you getting your arms wet? You know, are you getting your arms wet? So it’s like, all right. Let’s let’s [inaudible].

Rich Birch — I love that. Yeah, yeah. I love that.

Phil Ling — One of the things you want to count is, how many people give us money? So it’s not just, did we hit budget?

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Phil Ling — Where the money? Did we bring in the money…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — …that keeps this place operational? But how many and how many are we losing and how many are we gaining in the year…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Phil Ling — …and then break it down and say, are they moving up as they’re here? So if I’m in your church…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Phil Ling — …and I love what you’re doing and I feel called to your vision, then the longer I’m here I’m probably feeling more and more comfortable and I’m growing in my generosity. If you don’t look at that measure, you don’t know that. So A, you got to do that. You gotta do that.

Phil Ling — I still, and I know I’m the old guy yelling “get off my lawn”, and I’m I’m that old guy. But I still believe in initiatives. We call them campaigns.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Phil Ling — I know that’s not sexy. We call them vision campaigns not capital…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Phil Ling — …because it’s not always capital, it’s not always buildings, but it’s still an initiative where you create an opportunity for people to feel a sense of urgency to take a step to participate. So I’ll give you an example. We had a church recently—a good church, growing church, all this stuff, and and strong financial—but they did a a an initiative and a project. And we stressed participation in entry; people that really weren’t participating before getting involved. 39% of the $5,000,000, 39% – they raised $5,000,000 – 39% of the people that gave that $5,000,000 had never given to the church before. They were there…

Rich Birch — Wow, wow!

Phil Ling — …but they were below the $200 a year.

Rich Birch — That’s incredible. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Phil Ling — And so it’s the reason you do it is not it’s not like for sermons on generosity and tithing. It’s not, you know it’s got to be ah…

Rich Birch — Vision.

Phil Ling — …a whole process ah of building a culture generosity that celebrates how many people are doing it. You know, my big thing with pastors…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Phil Ling — …is that never talk about money upfront unless you talk about how many people did something. Because it’s it’s the number of participants…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Phil Ling — …that actually get involved. You your number one message in the big room on Sunday is we want everybody to get in the car and go on the trip or we don’t go. That participation…

Rich Birch — Right, right. That’s good. That’s good.

Phil Ling — …is how we’ve used this, how many people did something. That’s why I don’t jump up and down say, hey, Bob gave a million bucks. Well Bless Bob’s pea-picking heart. I would love to have Bob give a million dollars, but I’d also like to have 500 Marys and Bobs and Joes and Johns all give a thousand bucks or something too.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — So it’s like I have to celebrate that. So you when we’re hanging out out west, you heard me do my small, medium, large room stage. You know it’s like the rooms we communicate in. So the big room is participation.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yep. Yeah, and so when we’re trying to encourage participation in that in that big room is that so part of it is not stressing that you know it’s not about like, like you say, Bob gave a million dollars. It’s more like, hey we’re all we’re all in we all want to be engaged in this. We all should be engaged in this. This is ah kind of an all skate. Everybody’s in. What are what are some things that churches are doing to try to increase that participation that are trying to encourage that um, you know that aren’t thermometers hanging on the wall. What is what is that? You know how how do we do that?

Phil Ling — Ah, okay, so in in my world when you talk about generosity in church. You’re always trying to get people to do one of three things.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Phil Ling — Why three? Because I used to be a preacher and everything’s in three. You know, you got to have three.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — So number one, how do I win the first gift? So how am I encouraging somebody to give us money for the very first time? What’s my strategy?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — How do I celebrate, how do I communicate and talk about how many people are doing?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — That that can be a very simple thing. I’ve got churches that really buy into it and get it and there’s one in Delaware that we work with. And they might get up on a Sunday and say, man I am so excited we just talked to our financial secretary and they let us know that we had 27 families last month give money to our ministry for the very first time. How much they gave is not important.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s cool. Yep.

Phil Ling — It’s just that we’re going to celebrate that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. Yep.

Phil Ling — So talk about the appropriate things and talk to rooms. The big room which is the most diverse audience.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

People don’t know God, people been walking with God…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — …all over the place in the big room. So what am I doing in the big room? It’s the same. I’m always stressing participation.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — I’m talking about what that looks like. I’m celebrating those numbers. I’m telling the stories of people that do things for the first time. That’s big room conversation.

Phil Ling — Medium size rooms are like-minded groups. How do they look at things? How we’re going to identify the likeminded groups and what their key questions are? And then small room conversation are are my leaders. My high capacity those folks. It’s like I have to keep my leaders a safe place to ask me a question. That’s why you have small room talks.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — Biggest checks come from [inaudible] smallest room. And they’re the only people that ask questions in groups, want audiences more than answers. But that doesn’t mean the question [inaudible]. So like give me a safe place to ask my question.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — So so my long-winded answer to you on that…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great.

Phil Ling — …is understand which room you’re communicating in. What is your what is your goal in that room’s communication for the next twelve months?

Rich Birch — Yeah, what’s the goal there. Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — And then how are you going to actually measure it to see if it’s working? So if I’m trying to win a first time gift, like I said one, of our strategies, well then I can measure that. How many first time gifts did we get this year? You know that’s ah that’s a win. Second is I’m trying to lift…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — …people that that give us funds. Well, that’s that’s maturation. So can I kind of look down say you know what we had 83 families last year give month ah give more than they did the year before. How much is not important. That’s growth.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — So that is that lift. And then third…

Rich Birch — Right, right. That’s good.

Phil Ling — …how am I keeping my donors? And keeping is just the care and feeding, is how am I showing love and appreciation and gratitude to those people that that financially drive our ministry?

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. Well so you you mentioned it, you know they’re not capital campaigns, their vision campaigns. Do people still do these things? Like you know, I feel like the interesting thing about folks in this particular kind of slice of the Christian world is I feel like like they… I’ll sometimes hear people who do similar work to you and and um I feel like they spend a lot of time trying to convince us that we shouldn’t it’s almost like, well don’t do capital campaigns, like they’re terrible. You know, which is kind of weird. It’s like isn’t isn’t that what you do? But to be but I do that does it still work? Do is this still a strategy we should be thinking about, you know, or is that just like something that’s like when I… Listen, I talk a lot about church growth and the joke I make there is I know when I say church growth what you think of as a guy standing with a you know ah a folder of cassette tapes from the 80s. I get that.

Rich Birch — Um, is this the same kind of thing? Like the capital campaigns that that vision campaigns, that all went out with the Carter administration? Or where where are we at here?

Phil Ling — Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, like I say, I’m the old dude. So I as a church planter I had 18 years as a lead church planter that was never a year when I was not in a project or campaign. Because you’re when you’re planting, you don’t have anything…

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — …so you’re always raising money, or doing something. And then now for the last twenty years you know I’ve been running all over…

Rich Birch — Yep, sure.

Phil Ling — …the country working with folks. And you said I’ve worked with a thousand churches. So here’s the deal. Um I don’t try to be clever. I don’t try to call things different names so that it sounds different so I can sell you a product that was probably the same thing, but you think it’s different and new, improved, like toothpaste.

Rich Birch — Right? yep.

Phil Ling — You know it’s like it’s like no. What I describe to you, you can call it whatever you want to call it, and you don’t have to do it, but you need to do something just like it. It it it is what is because if you’re going to do a vision campaign—that’s just what I call it; you don’t have to call it that—the vision campaign.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Phil Ling — It is all about what are we gonna measure? We’re gonna measure mobilization. How many people did we get attached to our vision?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — Unanswered questions are stumbling blocks to my participation. You’ve got a great idea, a great vision. If you cannot answer my questions, I don’t participate or I don’t participate very deeply. And that’s why if you just get up on Sunday and say, let’s talk about this cool thing we want to do, and you haven’t done the hard work behind the scenes, you’re might not going to be very successful. So what is my mobilization strategy, my participation strategy? How are we going to measure that? And how are we going to have those conversations in those three rooms? Leaders cast vision; generosity fuels vision. Now think about this.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — So when I was a young pup, you know, I grew up in churches where you walked in in the auditorium had a ah, number are a little board up front with little black numbers. They’d slide in what the offering was last week.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Phil Ling — And then might even have a [inaudible] off, you know, or or budget need…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — …you know this is how much we need.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — And so everybody’s gonna watch see what it is.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Phil Ling — Those worlds that that’s over. That day’s over. A lot of the folks wandering in your in your building, it’s not that they don’t want to give to God. They don’t know if they should give to you.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — If you will get money to people, not projects. So your trust level.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — Do you do what you say you’re going to do?

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rich Birch — The first time you ever raise money. You do it on a promise. If you give me money I promise to do this. From then on, it’s a track record. And you can’t outrun bad track records.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — So all that to tell you, do campaigns still work? If if they’re well run with a clear purpose, they’re hugely successful. The best thing I can say is after all the years I’ve done this thing, half of the people that we work with every year, we’ve already worked with in the past. So…

Rich Birch — No, that’s good. That’s good.

Phil Ling — …that to me is the endorsement. We’ve got some that we’ve literally…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that tells you for sure.

Phil Ling — …um, 3, 4, 5 projects with. Why are you doing them? It’s not to get the people that give you money just to give you a little more. That’s the problem with fundraising. I hate that term.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — You have to increase the participation. That has to be an intentional plan.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — So now if you can do all that without doing a campaign plan, fine and fantastic – do whatever you’re going to do. But you got to still measure and accomplish the same things.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Phil Ling — I’ve not found anything better. They’re they’re they’re fads that come and go, and and all that kind of junk. And that I get that and that’s fine. Um I think that there is in this my last 2 seconds on the on the campaign. I believe in my heart that the people in your church have different pockets with money that they give. And so their ongoing gift and participation in your ministry is one pocket.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — A specific project, appeal, vision to do something unique is another proj… or another pocket. So every so often you create those…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — …because that second pocket could actually be the first pocket for a lot of your new people.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s so good. Phil, that’s fantastic. So here we are in the spring, I know oftentimes and maybe it’s just me but I feel like a lot of churches think about this stuff in the fall. It’s like you know I know I’ve had that as an executive pastor. It’s like I’m looking at, man, we are running behind. We’re like. Or there’s some new thing we want to do next year and I start thinking about in the fall. But you know should we get started now? Is is spring/summer a good time to you know, even engage with you, start the conversation, start working on things? Are there things we could be working on now to kind of set us up good, either for the the fourth quarter this year, or even into next year if we’re thinking, man, we might need to raise some additional funds in 2025. Talk to us through that.

Phil Ling — Okay, so first of all, all my answers are self-serving.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — So of course, Rich. Yes, you’ve got to.

Rich Birch — Love it. Yes, of course now’s the time.

Phil Ling — Okay here here here’s here’s the world I work on.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — Number 1, the bigger the plane you have, the longer the runway you need. So if I’ve got…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — …I’m just trying to raise a little bit of money for a bite size project, well I can run with my face on fire for a few weeks and maybe you do that. But if I’ve got to raise a ah, a large amount of money and participation for a large project, well then of course I need more time.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — You always want to start earlier, doesn’t cost you anymore to start early start earlier. We selfishly like being at the table early because the first thing we’re going to do with you is that financial analysis I talked about. Which is to me, it’s kind of like preapproved before you go shopping for your house. It’s scary accurate it.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Phil Ling — There’s capacity and giving trends in your church. So then when we sit down with you and and this happens all the time, and you know I’ll sit down with the church and they’ll say, hey we don’t want to go into debt. We want to do this and and cash flow with this project, and we would like to do $10,000,000 project, which is a huge project – $10,000,000. And so I come in…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Phil Ling — …and do the analysis and say okay, that’s great. I think you can safely raise 5 to six million bucks.

Rich Birch — Wow, yes.

Phil Ling — I think that that is within your capacity based upon what I the analysis.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — And and you know then it’s like, well what we think God could could do more. And I said I know God I can do more. I can tell you those stories. But I can also tell you what he does on average. So let me let me just know that what the problem…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, it’s good. Yeah, talk to us a little bit more about the…Oh sorry. Nope go ahead. Sorry.

Phil Ling — Ah well the problem is where far down the road on saying this is what we want to do before you come back and say, well how how do we know what our capacity looks like? So so that’s why my my argument bring somebody like us to the table earlier, so we can do an analysis with you. It doesn’t limit God. But it says, all right look the blameless autopsy number of giving units.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Phil Ling — At what levels they give…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Phil Ling — …how often you gain a new one. That paints the picture forensically of what people will do. Now there can be outliers.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Phil Ling — You can have, you know, Edith decides to give you two million bucks and and historically she gives about $20,000 a year. Okay, that’s cool. That’s an outlier. That’s fantastic. That’s great. But do that.

Phil Ling — As far as seasonal, um you want to raise money because we’re going for participation so we want most of our people to be here. So in most churches that’s spring and fall projects. So it’s like all right if we want money for the fall of 2024, then right now in the spring we should be building this machine. If we want money in the spring of 2025 and it’s a good big plane that’s got to get off the ground, and we still want to start about now. So pick when and then back up and say, okay, do we have enough time? I won’t be a lightning rod for your failure. I will stand on the table if you don’t have enough time. I say you’re you’re, you’re smoking dope; that this is too much this is too short a window. Um, ah…

Rich Birch — Right. Yes, too fast or whatever…

Phil Ling — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …you got to push it back. We got to push it back a season or something like that. Yeah.

Phil Ling — Correct, correct. So so let somebody like us help you figure that out as far as when you want to do that as far as scope of project. But that means you start earlier have these conversations early summer goes dead so you want to get a lot of stuff in figured out in the spring before you get into a dull time in the summer. And then what’s that fall look like. Fall windows are different for different churches in different parts of the world. People like you up in Canada have a little snow sometimes in the winter. Not much where I live.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phil Ling — So so go ahead I interrupt.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good. Well and I think that you know and it probably goes without saying but I would strongly suggest you reach out to Phil um, before like if you’re thinking about a building project, like to get to super tactical, if you’re thinking about like we’re you know we got a new campus or we’re trying to build something, man in the same way that you’d be crazy to you know to start shopping houses before you looked at the mortgage, you know you know, this is the same thing. You really should talk with Phil before you even really get too far down that process. This should be the first step. Not the second or third step. Not after you’ve talked to some architect who’s drawn some pretty paper. It’s like no, let’s let’s have this conversation early on. The size, having been through a number of these, the size and scoping is so important on the frontend financially and will save you so many hassles, you know, down the road. Um, you know that’s that’s a great, you know, that’s a great thing.

Rich Birch — Um, talk to us a little bit about the financial analysis. We’re kind of wrap up here. I think this is a great practical step. You know I’ve said to multiple church leaders, you should just hire Phil’s guys to do the financial analysis. This is what a great tool. You know your numbers better. Talk to us about the financial analysis a little bit more detail. What is that? How do I access that? All that kind of stuff.

Phil Ling — So it’s great. Honestly, if somebody reaches out and tries to hire us to do something, most of the time I’ll say, hey, slow down you know before you you hire the the whole enchilada, buy this little piece. I’ve never had anybody buy this little piece in all these years and complain that it wasn’t worth the money, because it’s it’s worth it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — So the analysis, like I said, we’ve analyzed a whole bunch of churches to try to figure out what churches should look like on paper. And then we look at yours. We’ll go back a couple of years and you’re you’re giving and we use everybody’s databases. We can figure it all out. Sometimes we just get backdoors to their processes and and pull those numbers. What I tell churches, they’re your numbers. So when I sit down with the church board, it’s like some of you guys, know these numbers, and gals. You know these numbers. I’m going to tell you what they mean.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — So when I look at it and say, all right, your church brings in $2,000,000 a year. It’s like, all right, where does it come from? Well it comes from this many units. And they come in these categories. So we have this percentage in this category, this category, this category. Every one of those things means something about you going forward. So what does your capacity look like? So you say well we like to do a project that this size. All right. Well that that’s within your capacity.

Phil Ling — If if God has laid something on your heart that’s bigger than what I see, that doesn’t mean you don’t do it. It’s just that means, Okay, how are we going to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — It doesn’t mean that we’re going to say no to the vision. It’s like we just want to be prudent…

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — …about don’t build a tower without counting the cost right.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Phil Ling — The analysis in my humble but accurate opinion, (that’s what I tell my son: my humble but accurate opinion), analysis…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Phil Ling — …is something that you do every year for the rest of your life. Once we do it for you and show you how to do it, it’s like here, this is how you pull your numbers, run them through. You can have us do it or you can try to do it yourself. That’s fine. And it it will it’s a discipleship tool. So this one little caveat, one little caveat. We’re going to break down your giving units and put on in four categories. So if Phil and Georgia Ling, if my family is in your church, and Phil and Georgia were there in 2023, and they were there in 2024—so both years—how much did they given 23? How much they given 24?

Phil Ling — All right, what we’re going to look at is that are they above pace where they were the year before? Are they kind of about on pace of where they were the year before? Were they a little off pace or falling down a [inaudible] percentage is falling down. And then the fourth category is what I call watch.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — The watch category says Phil and George are giving less than half the year before, or they quit giving completely. Here’s what I know. People quit giving you money before they physically walk out your door. And so it’s one of your disciples opportunities…

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Phil Ling — …where they’re waving their hand and saying I’ve got a crisis; something’s going on in my life. It’s usually not that they’re mad at you. Pastors always think everybody’s mad at and that’s why they left. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s just stuff happened.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Phil Ling — And so now what if you had a list and you printed it off and said, hey you know what? There’s 32 families here in the watch category. Are they physically still here? Are their kids checked into our children’s ministry? What’s going on in their lives? Are they in any of our small groups? It’s a discipleship tool for you. So that’s why I say you need to do that every year for the rest of your life.

Rich Birch — Yeah that’s good. That’s good. Well friends, I would encourage you, I’ve said that off the podcast, I’ve said that to lots of church leaders. This is a super helpful first step, great way to kind of begin ah the conversation. And you know, Phil, you’re just just a wealth of knowledge as I’ve been taking pages of notes here today. Again I really appreciate that. If let’s, as we wrap up today’s conversation, if people want to track with you ah or with the organization, where do we want to send them online? I know we’ve got a ah resource that we want to download. Talk to us all about that.

Phil Ling — So go to our website is thegivingchurch.com, thegivingchurch.com and there’s some things there you can download for free. There’s ah a pdf that’s “5 Ways to Grow Your Giving” and it’s worth it. Of course it’s free. Of course it’s worth it. But it has value. There’s a book on there that we wrote a few years back that talks about the changing giving patterns in North America. It’s The coming tsunami. So that’s a little bit of a horror show on things that are happening.

Phil Ling — So covid was a wake up call. Covid and the pandemic…

Rich Birch — Man, so true.

Phil Ling — …and and shutting down churches was a wake up call. We were told by society that we’re not an essential institution.

Rich Birch — Yeah, it’s crazy. Right.

Phil Ling — And it’s like okay so strip clubs are essential, bars were essential, liquor stores were essential. We weren’t essential. I don’t blame the world. I’m not a person who screams at the world. I think that’s our fault that we weren’t essential.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Phil Ling — So what are we doing to be healthier going forward. If all you try to do is hope your offering is good every week so you can pull off next Sunday, eventually you’re going to have something crater. Ah, it’s just the patterns are changed. So what is your intentional plans? We try to give you some values.

Rich Birch — Right.

Phil Ling — Go and get the “5 Ways to Grow Your Giving” PDF – it’s free – thegivingchurch.com

Rich Birch — Love it. Yeah, we’ll put links to that in the show notes as well. Phil, I really appreciate you being here. Thanks so much for all that you’re doing to help so many different churches. Appreciate being on the show today. Thank you, sir.

Phil Ling — Honored to be here. Thanks, man.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.