When an arsonist torched Maple Park Church’s sanctuary in October 2006, the devastated congregation vowed to rebuild.
The fire came while the church was already engaged in a building project on its Lynnwood, Washington, campus—construction that had already resulted in about $750,000 of debt. Insurance paid some of the $3 million cost to rebuild what was lost in the fire, but when the dust settled, Maple Park found itself with a $1.6 million mortgage and a project that had tripled in scope.
A three-year capital campaign to repay the initial debt was drawing to a close, and members were growing fatigued, especially with the revised sticker price and prolonged period of debt. Maple Park’s leadership knew it needed a better solution than another capital campaign.
In 2008, Administrative Pastor Phil Heiser joined the staff at Maple Park, which averages about 250 weekend attendees. He coordinated his first Financial Peace University class with just 13 of the church’s families—and he witnessed a totally different attitude toward finances and stewardship. Those 13 families paid off a combined $191,000 of personal debt in 90 days. That’s about half of what the entire congregation had managed to pay on its mortgage debt in three years of a capital campaign!
With the success of FPU, Heiser began looking more closely at Momentum, a stewardship training program for pastors and church leaders that helps congregations transform the way they think about money, debt and giving. Momentum uses a tri-fold approach of church-wide FPU classes, stewardship-focused sermons and a coordinated teaching series for youth and children to cultivate intense, passionate, cheerful givers. After doing his homework, he believed Momentum could be the answer Maple Park needed.
Momentum, Heiser says, “is about having a culture shift as opposed to thinking of it as a campaign. That was the hinge point for our church. It gave us hope in breaking the shackles of debt that were holding our ministry back.”
In August 2012, Heiser, Lead Pastor Dave Overland and three other key leaders attended Momentum training in Simi Valley, California, and began developing a game plan for their church’s future. Afterward, Heiser says, the five leaders were convinced that Momentum was the right solution for Maple Park.
“We left with not just a plan, but excitement for the future!” Heiser says.
They called their initiative Unshackled based on Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Over the next three months, Heiser, who served as the Momentum coordinator, assembled teams and directed the various phases of the process. Pastor Overland promoted Unshackled and communicated the vision across all segments of the church.
“Really getting our lead pastor on board was key,” Heiser says. “He’s a visionary leader who has faithfully led Maple Park for more than 20 years. Over a series of sermons he cast the vision of Unshackled: We serve a generous God who desires to extend His generosity to others through us. I cannot envision a church moving forward without the senior pastor making this a priority.”
Being a small church meant Maple Park could personally appeal to its congregation.
“I could speak directly with small group leaders and ministry coordinators,” Heiser says. “We could explain to them why we were doing it. We have 10 home life groups, so I could talk to each one. It’s like a family. We needed to take the time to share the vision with the whole family so we could move forward together in unity of purpose and direction.”
Church leadership put all other mid-week ministries and home life groups on hold. Instead, Maple Park offered FPU three nights a week during Unshackled, which lasted from January through March 2013.
“It allowed the life groups to walk through FPU togetherrather than throwing a bunch of folks in a class who didn't know each other as well,” Heiser says. “There was already a high level of trust within the groups. This familiarity allowed them to discuss their hopes and fears more freely early in the process.”
While many members went through FPU, the entire congregation heard a related sermon series every Sunday. The youth went through Generation Change, a class similar to FPU geared toward teens. And the church gave away copies of Financial Peace Junior to many of the church’s parents so they could teach their kids the principles at home.
On March 17, 2013, Maple Park celebrated the conclusion of Unshackled, and the results were undeniable. Church members had reduced their combined personal debt by $303,783 and increased their personal savings by $128,191. Since then, they’ve continued to reduce their debt and increase their savings.
As a congregation, the church’s mortgage debt is down to $971,000 with a planned pay-off in six years. For the first time, Maple Park’s general fund has also seen a $75,000 bump and gone from a deficit to a surplus. The church is now cash-flowing repairs to its facilities while continuing to reduce its debt. It has started a stewardship committee and plans to have a three- to six-month emergency fund in place for the first time by next June.
Maple Park now offers FPU and The Legacy Journey each year and has even offered an estate planning workshop and other financial stewardship-related small group studies. Beyond dollars and cents, the church has seen a total shift in its members’ mentality that has produced greater generosity.
“This has been our overarching goal of Unshackled,” Heiser says. “Be free from debt to give our lives away because God has settled our debt with Him and has given His life for us!”
Maple Park Church at a Glance
Administrative Pastor Phil Heiser (Lead Pastor Dave Overland)
Denomination: Church of the Lutheran Brethren
Number of Locations: 1
Average Weekend Attendance: 250
Pre-Momentum FPU/LJ alumni: 10%
Post-Momentum FPU/LJ alumni: 60%
Current FPU/LJ alumni: 65-68%
Are you ready to create a culture of radical generosity in your church? Learn how Momentum can help your congregation.