Ministry can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride.
In 2005, Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Loveland, Colo., was riding on a high when “the school was busting at the seams on their former campus,” according to Rev. Mark Frith, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) ministry support vice president.
“In 2008, Immanuel had relocated their congregation and school to a 25-acre piece of undeveloped property [and] built a large facility for both congregation and school,” he said.
“The school ministry was flourishing with students, and the congregation was deeply committed to involvement in the community. The loan, secured by LCEF, was over $6 million.”
A few years later, things changed.
Mounting debt + stress
“The ministry started competing with newly opened charter schools [and] a new non-denominational church that started a Christian elementary school and followed that with a thriving Christian high school,” said Frith.
Some families flocked to these new schools. This left Immanuel struggling to meet their budget and make their loan payments. The staff and leadership were worried and stressed as they struggled to navigate this challenge as the debt loomed over their heads.
“It was very painful to see many wonderful families leave the school,” said Rev. Glen Schlecht, pastor at Immanuel. “We truly believed and trusted that God had a plan for us, however that might look for the future of our school ministry.”
This was their option
After talking with their LCEF district vice president, Kevin Grein, the church and school were convinced that a debt reduction campaign was their best option.
“Immanuel and LCEF have been ministry partners for many years,” said Grein.
“LCEF has provided loans for them as they grew and expanded, and Rev. Mark Frith helped them clarify their mission, which helped the congregation see more ministry opportunities if they could lower their debt load.”
“As a pastor who has gone through seven campaigns over my 31 years at Immanuel, I knew how much work a campaign entailed and, honestly, I wasn’t excited to jump back in!” said Schlecht. “But it was an easy decision from the standpoint that we had to do something—and something big.”
Thankfully, the congregation was ready to respond in a big way.
“The campaign has put us in a position of strength financially,” explained Schlecht. “We had set a goal of $1.3 million, which seemed to be far beyond our reach, and yet, by the grace of God, His people at Immanuel saw the need, recognized the benefits and stepped up to the challenge.”
To everyone’s surprise, they reached their goal.
“We did not have any six-figure gifts—it was everyone praying about and sacrificing what they could, and all our ‘small’ gifts added up to exactly what was needed.”
The campaign had another unexpected benefit: It put the church in a position of strength as COVID-19 came on the scene in 2020. Through an online giving platform they had set up years prior, Immanuel was able to direct people to it as part of the campaign and encourage the use of it while they were unable to meet in person.
“To have this foundation laid was another unexpected blessing,” Schlecht said. “We were able to encourage people to give through these tools.”
Many people gave through these online tools and continue to do so today.
It was a blessing, after all, that Immanuel was able to reduce its debt and weather the storm because God was about to use the church and school to serve many more families in the community in the wake of the pandemic.
When the local public schools were unavailable for in-person learning, Immanuel was able to welcome new students.
“We’ve moved from thriving to struggling and now growing again,” noted Schlecht. “Without a doubt, it has been a roller coaster ride, but the people here at Immanuel have invested much in prayer, time and resources to bring us to where we are today.”
Schlecht is not sure where else God will lead Immanuel, but they keep praying, talking and striving toward creative ways to carry out His mission.
“How it turned out was far beyond what anyone could have imagined—even me,” he said. “To not just be hanging on by a thread, but to be thriving, is miraculous and most definitely God’s doing!”
Heavenly Father, govern our hearts that we may never forget your blessings, but steadfastly thank You for all Your goodness in this life until, with all Your saints, we praise You eternally in the next. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.