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This Is What They
Fixed Their Eyes On – St. John’s Lutheran Church

St. John's Lutheran Church, Orchard Park, NY

We all know the saying: “All’s well that ends well.” For St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orchard Park, N.Y., it’s accurate.

“St. John’s is a thriving congregation just south of Buffalo,” said Rick Porter, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) district vice president for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Eastern and New Jersey districts. “They found themselves in a position of needing to expand their facilities. They were using all of their previous building, and it still was not enough space to accommodate their growing ministry.”

The church embarked on a plan to expand. It was a thoughtful strategy that would allow them to accomplish their goals while still being fiscally responsible. The plan was to secure an LCEF bridge loan to cover construction costs while the church raised campaign dollars.

However, as the project grew, it became necessary to take on additional debt. LCEF financed the projected increase. Determined not to carry long-term debt, St. John’s planned a second capital campaign. The goal was to pay everything off quickly.

It was a good plan. Until reality hit.

A shortage of campaign fulfillment created a funding gap. Unplanned construction costs and unforeseen delays compounded the problem. The once-thriving church struggled with the direction their construction project was headed. It became a distraction that could have devastated ministry. Something needed to be done.

Creating a clear financial path

“When [LCEF] came in [for the second campaign], the extra challenge was navigating the broken financial well-being in the congregation,” said Billy Brath, LCEF vice president of ministry solutions.

“We had to rebuild that first. Rick [Porter] spent several months helping them rebuild their [project] finances, showed up at the voter’s meeting and paved the way for ministry clarity. Then we were able to clear the air and get back to pointing to Jesus.”

Brath added: “When there is a long-term financial problem, you can never solve it without answering ministry questions. But if you can’t fix immediate financial concerns, people can’t think creatively about ministry. Sometimes a clear financial path is necessary to get to ministry clarity.”

According to Rev. Nate Hartke, lead pastor at St. John’s, that focus didn’t always come easy.

It was a daily necessity to remind each other to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus … that it’s first and foremost about the kingdom of God, not the building, staffing or the programming. LCEF was a powerful voice that helped us to keep those things in the right order.”

A stronger focus on the Gospel

Today, the church is back on its financial feet. More importantly, their focus on sharing the Gospel is perhaps stronger after enduring the journey. With their finances aligned and their eyes fixed on Christ, the church has enjoyed their new ministry space and what they can do with it as a result.

“The new ministry space has been a wonderful blessing to what the Lord is doing among us in both the congregation and community,” said Hartke.

“But we also sensed the need to be more specific in what God was calling us to do. Not just with the new space, but with the entirety of the ministry.”

Hartke explained that it was invaluable to have LCEF help the church work through the details of their ministry vision and then relay it to the people of God at St. John’s.

What came out of that process was a two-fold vision statement: “Loved by Jesus. Sent to Others.”

Having an outsider, he said, was “refreshing, encouraging and injected a sense of ‘we can do this…and the Lord has gifted us with all the gifts needed to accomplish it.'”

“Our partnership helped us figure out how to fund both ongoing ministry and reduce building debt to support the ongoing ministry.”

So, all’s well that ends well, and for St. John’s, all is well. But it’s certainly not the end for this church and their ministry. The mission continues, and it’s once again alive and thriving

The interior of St. John's new ministry space.

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