Nearly two decades ago a group of moderate and progressive Baptist dreamers gathered to pray about the future of the Church in Norman, Oklahoma. They dared to let themselves envision a church without divided loyalties, who didn’t have to cow-toe around the Southern Baptists, but could live fully into who God was calling them to be.
In the years to come, that dream materialized. NorthHaven Church was birthed as a Cooperative Baptist church not fighting to preserve a misremembered past but living into God’s future. A future where all of God’s children are welcomed and included with love and mercy for one another without any caveats or asterisks.
Nearly 20 years later, we’re still working to materialize that dream each day. This year, our executive committee voted to clarify that when our mission statement says “NorthHaven is an inclusive community” we really mean it. Male or female, gay or straight, all are children of God, and by God’s grace, all are equally deserving of all the rights and responsibilities of the NorthHaven Church family.
For the third year in a row, we’ve set a new record high for how much money we’ve raised and given away in benevolence funds to those lacking basic necessities.
Today, we have the healthiest church staff I’ve ever been apart of in my 15 years on church staffs. All of us are united in mission and purpose and are working toward the same goals.
Pamela and Kaitlyn just celebrated their second anniversary leading our children. We’ve lost too many members over the last two years, but we’ve lost very few families with children in comparison. It’s been our least affected area and is even growing! I’m convinced that the great work Pamela and Kaitlyn are doing is a huge factor contributing to the spiritual health of our church as a whole, not to mention the spiritual formation of our children.
The inclusive love and kindness that NorthHaven preaches, Kayleigh and Jillian modeled in our youth department this year. They’ve created a community that is open to all and celebrates all of our gifts and quirks.
It is with great joy that we welcomed Patti Drennan on staff this Fall. Patti has so many talents and treasures that we are only just beginning to learn how to utilize her best. With Patti, the future of worship is only limited by our ability to dream it.
Sheri continues to be the glue holding all things together and ensuring that the ship is always sea ready. I’ve taken to introducing her as the Chief Operating Officer, and it’s true. Sheri does the lion’s share of building management and administrative work on top of keeping our books and finances in line- freeing me up to do what I do best.
NorthHaven’s staff is an embarrassment of riches, and I am convinced that our staff is our most valuable asset. It’s not often first time pastors as young as I am are surrounded by staffs as powerful and purposeful as mine is. I am a lucky pastor, and I know it. Whatever God’s future for NHC is, I believe these people are key.
Despite all the challenges of 2019, 2020, and 2021, God continues to create something beautiful at NorthHaven. That we are still here and even thriving in all the ways that count the most is a testimony to God’s grace and NHC’s faithfulness.
One day we will stand before God and give an account for our work here at NorthHaven during this time, and I believe with full assurance of faith, that in all the ways that matter the most to the kingdom of heaven, we will be found faithful.
When I do a baby dedication I always pray that God would give the child a good life, not an easy one. That prayer is being answered at NHC. We are doing good, good work, but it has not been easy, and it may not get easier for awhile still.
In early 2020 we buried our dear friend and founding member, Bob Stephenson, who was the benefactor who bought the land and paid for the vast majority of the buildings NHC now inhabits. His annual contributions made it possible for NorthHaven to accomplish things in its first 15 years that no teenage church should have any right to accomplish. There’s no end to our gratitude for Bob, and we miss his wisdom and insight now more than ever.
When Bob died, the financial profile of our church changed. Bob didn’t believe in giving to endowments, because he’d been burned in the past. He believed in buildings because he said a building appreciates and can always be turned into a liquid asset if needed. Instead of leaving us an endowment after he died, he built us buildings while he was alive and left us with an incredible resource to steward.
A convergence of factors like Bob’s passing, the pandemic, and others have made meeting our budget goals difficult. We cut our budget by 25% from 2020 to 2021, but have bottomed out on what we can cut without losing staff or removing what little is left of our missions and ministries.
The Center for Healthy Churches published a rough outline for what a healthy church budget might look like:
NorthHaven’s 2022 Budget looks like this:
Not only is our budget unbalanced, but at our December Church Conference, we passed a budget for 2022 that spends $44,000 more than we expect in contributions. We have money in the bank to cover this shortfall next year, but obviously this is no way to run a church long term.
To exacerbate our financial challenges, our largest giver right now gives $90,000 per year and is over 90 years old. Conceivably, we could be looking at a $134,000 per year deficit in the future if we don’t making large changes. The reality is disquieting, but after all that we’ve been through in the last few years and since NorthHaven’s founding, I believe that God still has a purpose for NorthHaven to live into. God is not finished with us yet.
That’s why we’ve assembled a building use task force to explore three goals:
- Short-range goal of using our building to generate income in the amount of $44,000 per year.
- Mid-range goal of using our building to generate income in the amount of $134,000 per year.
- Explore other option in regards to our assets and liabilities.
More directly, the third goal means that if we cannot find a sustainable way to raise our annual income $44k in the short term and $134k soon after, then what other options are left to us?
Coincidentally, in early December another church here in town approached us and expressed their interest in purchasing our building. They sold their building to the state as a part of the highway expansion and need somewhere else to go. Our executive committee made no commitment whatsoever, but they did decide to get an appraisal on our property so that we will at least know what kind of finances are on the table.
The last time a valuation of our property was done, it was valued at $8.5 million. Hypothetically, if we sold the building and put that 8.5 million in an endowment that draws 5% interest each year, then we would make $425,000 per year. That’s about $100,000 more per year than our an entire 2022 budget without even considering tithes from members on top of that.
That doesn’t address any of the challenges of moving or where we would go, but with $425,000 per year, every year, NorthHaven’s existence could be ensured into the distant future. What dreams might God have for us if we had that kind of money to promote God’s inclusive love in Oklahoma? What might our leadership and staff be able to accomplish when we can focus our energies outward instead of inward?
My goal in saying this isn’t to convince anyone we should sell our building. Maybe we should or maybe we shouldn’t. I’m not quite sure yet. My goal is to articulate that we have a bright future ahead of us no matter what the future holds. NorthHaven isn’t done dreaming. God isn’t finished with us yet.
I believe the promise God spoke to the Hebrew people in exile is the same one God is speaking to NorthHaven today in our own exilic moment:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Whatever may come, I give thanks that we’re meeting these challenges together, church. No one wants to walk through fire, but if we have to do it, then we do it together.
Jakob Topper, Senior Pastor