The Big Payoff: Church Dumps $9M Debt to Give More, Do More, Reach More
They called it Journey On—a Texas church’s two-year giving initiative aimed at eliminating their mortgage debt. The goal: to go from $9 million to zero—no small feat. Journey On included prayers, counsel, teaching, videos, articles, reminders, more prayers, and generous giving. And the church met its goal. In January, a month usually marked by debt-regret, Irving Bible Church (IBC)—whose former pastors include Chuck Swindoll and Stanley Toussaint—announced that they could burn their mortgage note. IBC communications pastor Scott McClellan (and DTS student) talked with Kindred Spirit about the experience.
KS: Tell us a little bit about IBC and how the church found itself with a $9.7 million mortgage.
Irving Bible Church was founded more than fifty years ago out of a desire to worship God in community and reflect his love to our city. As we grew in size in the 1990s and early 2000s, our leadership decided to add a new worship center and Town Square to our building in order to make room for the people God was bringing through our doors. Our mortgage debt was simply the remaining principal on the loan that helped us create this new space.
KS: How did the decision to pay down the mortgage come about?
A few years ago it became evident that our mortgage debt represented not only actual costs, but opportunity costs as well. In other words our mortgage debt was being paid with resources we would’ve preferred to allocate directly to ministry and mission. Thus, the leadership of IBC resolved to aggressively retire the debt in order to free our church to give more, do more, and reach more.
KS: How did you communicate the plan to your church? How did people respond?
We created a campaign called Journey On, a two-year initiative to retire $9 million in mortgage while also sustaining our operating budget at the same time. People had questions and concerns, of course, but ultimately people committed themselves. Hundreds and hundreds of IBC families pledged to give over and above their normal offering amount. Somehow, by God’s grace and the generosity of his people, we met our goal and retired our debt in exactly two years! On February 1 of this year, the entire church came together for a special celebration that included the burning of our mortgage note.
KS: Now that the campaign is complete, what new kinds of ministry does this choice make possible?
In many ways, this question hasn’t been fully answered yet. But I can tell you that right out of the gate we’ve been able to make strategic investments with some of our key mission partners. For example, My Refuge House received a sizable check from IBC on February 1, and as a result they’ve already broken ground on a new pavilion that will help them better serve and care for girls who’ve been rescued out of sex trafficking in the Philippines. That wasn’t possible when we were saddled with mortgage debt, but it’s possible now.
That’s a taste of what’s happening around the world, but right here in the Dallas area we were able to create a new church-planting residency based at IBC. Currently, two church-planting residents are being developed, trained, and supported by Irving Bible Church. In the coming months, two new churches will be proclaiming the gospel to their neighborhoods, in part because IBC is debt-free.
KS: How have you changed as a result?
This entire experience has been a reminder to me and my colleagues that we serve a big God. Our leadership felt God calling us into this initiative, but it was hard to see how it would all come together. We even had people with experience guiding these kinds of campaigns who said that our goal and timeline were too ambitious, and that we weren’t going to be debt-free in two years. Being in the middle of it, though, makes all the difference. Seeing God provide and people respond has changed my conception of what’s possible and what’s impossible.
KS: If other churches wanted to do the same thing, what would you tell them?
First and foremost, we felt God leading us to do this. Start there. Beyond that, I have to underscore what a commitment this is. You can’t make one big announcement—no matter how inspiring—and then sit back watch the offering plates overflow. An effort like this is a sustained effort. When we celebrated being debt-free on February 1, it was the culmination of more than two years of prayer, teaching, communication, and more prayer. In other words, this is not an easy road to walk. That said, if it’s the road God is guiding you toward, it’s worth it, and he will provide.