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Saving Sacred Spaces with a Church Trust-

IMG_0040Land and buildings owned by churches are valuable assets. They were intended for specific, God honoring, purposes. They were purchased with sacrificial gifts of God’s people. Today, the value of these assets totals in the hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of dollars.

So what happens to these valuable assets as churches journey through the various stages of their life cycle? If a church reaches a plateau or finds its attendance and finances declining, is there a safeguard in place to protect the church and its property from becoming the target of (1) a “hostile takeover” by an unacceptable “religious” group or unscrupulous business developer; or (2) an internal “coup” by a leader or small group of leaders who are not committed to the principles of the Restoration Movement?

Saving Sacred Spaces – is a program designed specifically to provide such a safety net for churchs. By placing church property in trust, church leaders can assure their congregation of a safe meeting place while they work on strategies and opportunities for returning to health. They can also assure the congregation that if a graceful ending of the church’s life cycle becomes reality those valuable assets will be distributed (per their instructions) for growing and dynamic ministries. A Sacred Space will be saved and Christ’s Kingdom will continue to be honored. 

How External Takeovers and Internal Coups Occur

  • A “multitude” of Independent Churches are looking for a place to call home.
  • At-risk churches provide a tempting environment for a “takeover” or a “coup.”
    • At-risk churches possess 3 very important factors that lead to a hostile takeover
      • High value and debt free
      • Attendance in decline
      • Churches that are autonomous
    • The hidden agenda behind an external takeover
      • Outside group will filter into the church little by little
      • They become voting members and leaders
      • They will ultimately call for a congregational meeting and a vote
    • The dynamics of an internal coup
      • Attendance declines and those who remain become tired and weary
      • Finances are a continual challenge
      • Long-term leaders gone, new leaders not connected to original vision for church
      • New leaders see “merger” or “union” with non-Restoration Movement group as an easy solution

 Is Your Church a Target?

  • Attendance that decreases to less than 100 people per Lord’s day
  • Less than 35 active families involved in the church
  • A congregation where there are less than seven dedicated, knowledgeable men who could assume the role of elder
  • Property that is valuable, but with a loan-to-value ratio of less than 50 percent

Protecting the Church

  • Sharpen Your Bylaws
    • Bylaws should contain 4 articles to identify:
      • Church
      • Membership
      • Requirements for membership
      • Dissolution procedures
    • WARNING – Bylaws can be easily amended – they do not provide as complete of protection as a Church Trust!

 Ultimate Protection and Benefit 

  • Ultimate Protection
    • Place church in trust with a non-profit ministry like Kairos Legacy Partners as trustee to hold title to property
  •  Ultimate Benefit
    • Grants local congregation full authority to conduct services and all other (non-real estate) business of the church as they always have, without fear of an internal Coup or external Takeover.
  • Assures church leaders and members that church assets will be distributed according to their instructions, should church eventually close 

Here’s just one example of how a Kingdom minded church looked beyond its own decline and found a way to be a Blessing to many… by placing its property in a Church Trust.

 First Christian Church of Santa Ana, CA

First Christian Church of Santa Ana was the mega church of its day and the community of Santa Ana the place to live in Orange County.  During the 70’s though, this community began to experience a drastic change in cultural demographics as a large contingent of Hispanics began moving into the area.  This similar picture was being seen in many of the once affluent communities throughout Orange County and as a result those who felt uncomfortable with this change, moved on to establish suburban communities to the south, while those who decided to remain took more drastic actions.

Right, wrong or indifferent, change affects us all in various ways but for FCC of Santa Ana they felt the need to protect their property from the changing demographics rather than embrace it, and the resulting mindset was to close their doors to what was happening around them in an effort to preserve what they had worked so hard to build.  As time passed, the attrition rate began to rise as people continued their exodus by leaving or dying, but no one coming in to replace them.

This, one time thriving mega church with 55,000sq.ft.of usable facility, was in dire straights and on their way to closing their doors when in August of 1997 the leadership decided to place their facility in trust to CDF.  During the next two years the church continued to decline in membership and spiral further into financial insecurity.

In September of 1999, First Christian Church of Santa Ana and CDF formulated a plan to put this church back into operation as a community church that would once more reach the people in its neighborhood.  The decision was made to ask a nationally known Hispanic minister to come to Santa Ana with his church and build a ministry that would not only meet the need of the neighboring community, but would also bring life back into the sparsely populated sanctuary and empty classrooms throughout the property.

CDF placed the church under direct management of the Director of Trust Properties to both manage the operations of the building and the relationship between the new church being started and the 4 small groups who already existed on the property.

Almost from the beginning of this process, Santa Ana College, which was located directly across the street, was calling the CDF office wanting to buy the property for “cash” as the property was in the path of their expansion plans for the college. Also from the beginning, CDF’s response was absolutely NOT; with a further indication that we would do whatever it takes to reestablish this ministry for the community.  We committed the next 3 years to fulfilling that promise as CDF, the new Hispanic ministry, and the existing groups at FCC worked side by side to rebuild the Santa Ana church.

Peter Drucker said this about plans, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”   Or it can be said this way, “The best made plans are only as good as the unity that supports it.”  The plan to succeed was set into motion but the struggle to maintain unity to the vision prevented the victory.

After 3 years of internal turmoil and failed attempts to fill the empty building throughout the week, the original members of FCC expressed their disappointment by asking CDF to intervene and come up with a final solution to this problem.

After much prayer and discussion, CDF proposed this plan to the leadership of the church; due to Santa Ana College’s insistence to buy the property and the increasing amount of cash they were willing to spend, 5.4 million, why not sell the property and use the proceeds of the sale to establish a fund whereby the fund would stay in place year after year and the interest off that amount would be used to plant new churches each year, every year until Jesus returns!  That way the legacy of the church could be passed on from church to church from generation to generation.  To that proposition the church said, “That’s a no brainer!”

The plans were made to sell the building; ample time was given for existing ministries to decide where they wanted to go or whether they even wanted to stay in operation.  There was a lot of sensitivity and care given to the preparations for demolishing this familiar icon of Santa Ana; stained glass windows were carefully removed and donated to the Santa Ana Historical Society, as was a time capsule that was placed in the cornerstone of the Sanctuary in 1955 which possessed historical artifacts about the church of that day.  No stone was left unturned in providing a transition that was both dignified and respectful of the people of FCC of Santa Ana and the accomplishments that they had provided over the years and now would continue to provide into the future.

Today, more than 350 new churches would not exist were it not for the Church Planting Fund which was established by the proceeds of First Christian Church of Santa Ana, and has been added to over the years by Church Trust designations, Legacy Church gifts and direct contributions from individuals and organizations:

When is a Trust Terminated?

  • When the congregation determines that it no longer wants to continue as a congregation
  • In the unilateral opinion of the Trustee, the church is no longer serving as a Christian church under the New Testament restoration position tradition
  • When the property is liquidated
  • When the assets of property and of congregation are distributed to named beneficiaries in the trust document
    • Congregation at the time of setting up trust determines what charitable beneficiaries are to be recipients of final distribution of assets.

Bottom Line

The congregation has to have faith in the Trustee

Kairos Legacy Partners is a charitable organization which is dedicated to the principles of New Testament Christianity, and has a loyal determination to see that the church continues in its originally established position and purpose.

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Contact Kairosfor more information on Church Trusts, Legacy Churches, Ministry Assessments or the Kairos Benevolence Fund
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