Cycling to Endowment Success
September 4, 2018
Once upon a time… an incredible church in a beautiful neighborhood in the bustling city of Austin, Texas raised $860,000 for their endowment by riding their bikes… the end.
Farfetched, right? …but what if it wasn’t?
Raising $860,000 for an endowment in less than a year sounds like a fairy tale to most churches, but for Saint John’s UMC in Austin, not only was it a true story, it was a beautiful reminder of what is possible when an entire congregation engages in ministry.
In 1976, the church started an endowment fund with a gift of $15,000 and until 2014, they really hadn’t thought too much about it. By that time the fund had grown to $50,000 and the church was developing a subcommittee to begin planning for the endowment’s purpose. Months later, the congregation was participating in Putting Your House in Order workshops with Tom Stanton, TMF Senior Area Representative for the Rio Texas Conference.
These workshops guide participants through end-of-life discussions with a focus on perpetuating one’s generosity and values even after death. With those conversations deeply rooted in the congregation and a new vibrant plan for the endowment in place, an anonymous donor visited the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Paul Escamilla, and offered a $150,000 matching gift to the endowment. The new plan for the endowment had encouraged the donor to be generous and spur others to be generous as well.
Following the Easter of 2015, the endowment committee was poised to begin a major campaign. In June, they determined Paul would ride 670 miles in honor of the church’s 67th birthday and church members could make pledges per mile. The donor had only given them until December 15th to raise the funds, so they needed the bike ride to be an incredible success. They charted the course; it was tantamount to a modern-day circuit ride, but instead of stopping at churches, Paul would stop at the missions and ministries they supported along the route.
It was a lovely plan that did not work out as they expected at all. Weeks before the ride, Paul broke his collarbone. He couldn’t ride one mile, much less 670. They scrambled to come up with a new plan…and it was even better. They asked members of the church to ride and that is when the excitement really started to be generated. “There was an amazing change in participation rates,” Former Endowment Committee Chair Martha Renfroe shared. “Paul’s injury encouraged avid cyclists to join. It was really the best thing that could have happened to get more people involved.”
Paul was cleared to ride tandem and the volunteers enthusiastically took the front seat to make sure he could see the trip through. It was a journey that brought the church together in very unexpected ways. The cyclists were making connections with church members they had not known previously and volunteers who did not serve with the missions they were visiting along the route suddenly were seeing those ministries in action. By the end of September, the church was celebrating her 67th birthday with the last mile. It was a parade of bicycles, tricycles, wheelchairs, and strollers. Everyone in the church could participate.
At the end of their campaign, they had raised and matched $860,000 in gifts to the endowment.
The plan to expand the endowment fund and the impromptu bike rides to support Pastor Paul had been successful at an unanticipated level. “There had not been much giving outside the budget before the bike ride and the endowment plan,” Martha noted. Nevertheless, the Church Endowment Committee was now tasked with using these generous gifts to the Endowment Fund to benefit the ministry and missions of the church.
In 2016, the members of the Endowment Fund Committee designed a grant awards program to determine how the annual distribution from the endowment fund would be allocated. Patterned after grant programs used by other non-profits, the Endowment Fund Committee developed guidelines for applications, created a timeline for action, and encouraged Saint John’s committees to submit proposals. To date, approximately $95,000 in grants have been awarded from endowment fund distributions that directly benefit the various mission programs of the church.
This grants program, which you can read more about here, transformed the church in surprising ways as well. "The grants changed our attitude,” Senior Pastor Hilary Marchbanks said. “Now, we have a willingness to dream. The grants make everyone able to brainstorm, and there are even more possibilities behind our ideas because we can live them out. The success of the endowment and the new grants program have given us a remarkable boost.”
Out of an unexpected injury, Saint John’s has not only rallied their members to go deeper as disciples, but the church has also captivated those disciples to believe in God-sized dreams.