I have some exciting news! The city of McKinney has approved our building plans! We are now set to break ground on or about Dec. 20! The first phase will be to prepare the land, which should be completed by early January. From the time we pour the foundation until the building is completed will take six to nine months. That means our target date for moving into the new office building will be sometime between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2018. This has already been a long process, and we are all excited to see construction actually begin.
We plan to share photos and videos of our progress by adding a separate page to our member website to provide timely building updates. When the building is complete, we will have a structure that will meet our needs for years to come, with additional room for growth. It will double our square footage and increase our efficiency with a new classroom, studio and mailroom. The classroom will accommodate up to 50 students, and the studio will allow for three permanent video sets. Our new mailroom will be several times larger than our current one.
Let me rehearse some of the history that brought us to this point. We ran out of space in our current office suite in 2015. That year we began looking for new space, either to lease or to purchase. We discovered that the cost of leasing had gone up considerably in this area, as had the cost of building. Since building costs are unlikely to decrease any time soon, we determined it was better to own a building, thereby giving us more control over our costs on an annual basis. We began looking for either an empty building to purchase or open land on which to build. After more than a year of searching, we made an offer on 7.4 acres of land in McKinney, Texas, a 10-minute drive from our current office. In July of 2017 we closed on this property and began drawing up plans for an office building.
We were able to purchase the property at a much lower price than the appraised value. In fact, the appraised value of land in the area where we purchased the 7.4 acres was three times what we actually paid. This immediately provided the Church with an added benefit—a solid asset that had already increased in value. Since we really don’t need the full 7.4 acres to build an office, we have the option of selling one to two acres and recouping as much as 75 to 100 percent of the price we paid for the entire property. The remaining five acres would still leave us with enough property to construct additional buildings, such as an auditorium or an education center, at some point in the future.
Since I last wrote to all of you, the Ministerial Board of Directors was in town Dec. 4-6 for the board’s annual meeting. The board is made up of Joel Meeker (chairman), Richard Thompson, Leon Walker, Larry Salyer, David Baker, Arnold Hampton and Richard Pinelli. The primary agenda item each year is approval of the strategic plan, the operation plans and the budget for the next fiscal year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018).
During this recent meeting, we had a lot of good news to share with the Ministerial Board of Directors. The Church experienced its highest-attended Feast this past year. Our total attendance (including those watching DVDs, listening to MP3s or logging on to a webcast) was more than 10,700, compared to 10,400 in 2016. This was a growth rate of about 3 percent. Our growth in Festival attendance has not been dramatic, but it has been consistent, with a total increase of 1,000 people when comparing 2017 to our first Feast in 2011.
In addition to the Feast attendance, we were also able to share good news about the Church’s financial condition. We are projecting that this year will end with a 3 to 5 percent increase in income over what we budgeted, and a 2 to 3 percent decrease in expenditures. This is a very good financial position—an income above budget while keeping expenditures below budget! Looking back over the past few years and the steady increase in income we have had year over year, we are basing our 2018 budget on a further 3 percent increase.
As you can see, there was much good news to share with the Ministerial Board of Directors. But it was also sobering as we reviewed the events of this past year, noting the number of members who are experiencing serious trials. We lost two fine pastors in 2017, both in their 50s. And during the board meetings we were notified of the death of Burk McNair, a longtime minister in the Church of God. The McNair family has a long history with the Church dating back to the 1940s. Mr. McNair was buried in San Antonio, Texas, on Dec. 10. In the month of November the Dallas congregation was shocked by the sudden deaths of two men, both Ambassador College graduates. One was a local Dallas member, and the other was from North Carolina and the father of one of our Foundation Institute graduates, who lives here in Dallas.
The Bible has much to say about trials and how we should react to them. In that context, I have always found James 1:2-4 to be a very difficult section of Scripture. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
We know that God desires for us to be in His kingdom (Luke 12:32) and that He has promised to complete the work He has begun in each of us (Philippians 1:6). But how can it be a joy when we experience a serious trial? By reading the last part of James 1:4, we see that the end result of a trial is for us to become “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” This is the real focus of James’ admonition—the end result of a severe trial is to assist us in our spiritual growth and help us become better Christians.
It is extremely difficult to watch someone we love die or to lose someone we have known for decades. It leaves a void in our life, but through these difficult and distressing times we learn to trust God and to develop patience. Please pray for those who have suffered the loss of a family member, and please pray for all those who are experiencing trials. Paul tells us in Romans that there is nothing we will suffer during this present age that remotely compares to what God offers us in the world to come (Romans 8:18). Because of this, we must pray more fervently for Christ to return soon to put an end to death and sorrow (Revelation 21:4; Isaiah 25:8; 35:10).
God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us. Having our faith tested by severe trials—the loss of loved ones, serious illnesses and accidents—is the most difficult thing asked of any of us as Christians. But the reward is the Kingdom of God! It is important that we not get so discouraged that we give up. Our reward is sure, as long as we endure to the end (Matthew 24:13)!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,