Pastor Lowell Timm recalls a question posed at a recent conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), “what is the number one challenge to ELCA’s mission?” The answer? Urban brick and stone buildings.

As the leader of a church in Northwest Milwaukee, WI, Pastor Timm has seen this challenge firsthand. “Many of these buildings were built in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” he explains. “They have huge expenses that can’t be supported by the existing membership alone.” Capitol Drive Lutheran Church is one such congregation.

Founded in 1933, it quickly outgrew its original home as the postwar era dawned and the baby boom followed. A new building was dedicated in 1956 just a block down the street from the old church, and in 1967, Capitol Drive Lutheran replaced the original church with a Parish Center, which housed offices and meeting rooms.

With about 200 members as of 2011, Capital Drive found itself in an unfortunate but all too common situation – it was a congregation that could no longer support the maintenance of an older building intended to serve a much larger population. At this point, building repair costs included $200,000 to replace the roof. So when the opportunity arose to expand the church’s base of support and fundraising capacity by participating in Partners for Sacred Places’ New Dollars/New Partners for Your Sacred Place training program (sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Synod), the congregation took full advantage. A team consisting of Pastor Timm and three lay leaders participated in the New Dollars sessions throughout 2009-2010 and immediately adopted Partners’ methodology.

Through an asset-mapping exercise, the Capitol Drive team physically plotted its resources and recognized the congregation’s role as an asset to its community. Partners’ Public Value Tool proved to be an especially valuable resource for the Capitol Drive team. Available to all New Dollars participants, this online application uses financial data from a congregation to determine the dollar value of its subsidy for various ministries and programs. These numbers figured prominently in the congregation’s grant proposals and bolstered its case by providing empirical data on how it benefits the larger community. The team assessed the public value of five of its programs:

Health Ministry – health education, basic screenings, referral to other medical services, and personal consultations for older adults in the church and community, provided by a parish nurse and pastoral care staff member.

SDC Head Start – housed on Capitol Drive’s premises, this is a federally funded early childhood education program operated by the City of Milwaukee’s Social Development Commission. In addition to providing education to low-income children aged three to five, Head Start also provides daily meals, health screenings, and access to other social services.

Sherman Park Gathering Place – a social, educational, and spiritual program for older adults that meets twice a week in an accessible church community room. The Gathering Place offers health resources in conjunction with the health ministry and provides access to a computer lab for skills training.

TenderCare Child Care – a daycare program that serves over 160 children ages six to twelve. In addition to offering after-school and summer programming, TenderCare has also partnered with a local public school to provide enrichment programs and homework assistance.

Third World Handcrafts Shoppe – a market for fair trade products, supporting artisans in the developing world. It showcases developing countries’ economic progress and increases awareness of social, economic, and political issues around the globe.

In total, these programs were valued at $184,209 per year – far exceeding the national average of $144,000.

The Capitol Drive team had originally assumed that charitable foundations would constitute the bulk of their external funding. In reality, it discovered that most of the funds raised came from individuals. Efforts to reach out to former members or their geographically distant children were especially fruitful. At the same time, organizations and businesses were targeted as important sources of funds.

Capitol Drive also acted to increase its visibility and develop it as an asset to the community. With a sanctuary that can hold 600 people, the church is an ideal location for concerts, so it hosted a well-attended volunteer performance of Handel’s Messiah, one out of a yearly series in Milwaukee every December.

Using the impressive case statement developed as part of the New Dollars training, Capitol Drive secured over $45,000 in grants specifically for low-income outreach programs. With their horizons expanded beyond their immediate membership, church leaders were able to generate enough money to support large-scale projects like window and roof replacement.

As a result of its New Dollars experience, the leadership of Capitol Drive Lutheran Church is creatively thinking about new ways to further integrate the church into its landscape and enhance its public image as an asset to the community. Innovative outreach efforts have attracted capital and support, providing the congregation with the resources it needs to meet the challenge of preserving its historic building and continue serving the wider Milwaukee community.