Johnson Retiring After 30 Years in Financial Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on June 19th, 2007     
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CHICAGO, IL (June 19, 2007) – David Johnson has invested his life helping Evangelical Covenant Churches and other denominational ministries. For more than 30 years, as head of National Covenant Properties (NCP) and in earlier roles, he has helped enable these ministries to reach out to people across the country.

From birth, Johnson has attended Immanuel Covenant Church, which once served mostly Swedish immigrants on the city’s north side. In recent years, he has helped lead the congregation to welcome the new wave of immigrants moving into the area, which is the most ethnically diverse zip code in the United States.

JohnsonNow after 30 years of heading NCP and a lifetime at Immanuel, he is retiring the end of this month. Johnson and his wife, Jeanne, will move to Knoxville, Tennessee, so they can be closer to other family members.

ECC President Glenn Palmberg describes Johnson’s legacy as a powerful one. “At the national and local levels, David has shown a profound love for all of God’s people,” he explains. “I am deeply grateful for him. He has been a model for all of us in the church because he has seen his job not just as finance, but as ministry. As a result, we have been able to share God’s great compassion, mercy and justice in ways that otherwise would not have been possible.”

“During David’s time at National Covenant Properties, the organization has doubled in size about every five years,” notes Steve Dawson, who will be the new president of NCP. “His consistent ‘keep it simple’ leadership style, coupled with his vision for technological changes, have been huge in driving this growth. He has the ability to see the ‘big picture,’ and so his wisdom was sought by many administrators over the years.”

Johnson says his years at NCP “have been more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.” He graduated from North Park University in 1966. After being drafted and serving in the U.S. Army for two years, he returned to Chicago, where he worked for a local energy company and earned his MBA at Loyola University.

He started with the Covenant in 1975 as its financial controller and executive director of NCP. With his strong commitment to expanding the denomination’s ministry and already living in the neighborhood, “It seemed like a natural fit,” Johnson says.

Churches, investors both benefit

His job with NCP transitioned to full time, and his title would change to president. The work and mission would remain the same – “We facilitate the local church so they can do ministry and make sure investors get a good return for their dollar.”

Since 1975, under Johnson’s guidance, NCP has:
•    increased its assets from $8 million to more than $260 million
•    always had a positive net income
•    made roughly 1,000 loans to Covenant churches, camps, and other institutions
•    never lost money on a loan

Under Johnson’s leadership, the ministry also has experienced a decline – in the waiting period for churches to obtain loans. Due to its increased finances, NCP is able to quickly respond to requests. By contrast, in 1975 Covenant institutions had to wait two years before they could receive any money.

He smiles as he recalls how NCP also helped Covenant Offices enter a new technological era. “We bought the first PC (personal computer) that came into the building.”

But Johnson is most excited about ministry the loans have made possible. More than 80 percent of churches, camps and other institutions with loans have them through NCP, he says.

NCP works closely with the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism and the regional conferences to carry out an aggressive church-planting strategy. “It’s almost impossible for startups to get any loan from banks,” Johnson says. Churches and camps also have been able to expand to meet new opportunities because of NCP loans made at relatively low rates.

Helping the institutions has not always been easy, however, when the financial markets are tight. “It can be a real struggle,” Johnson says.

The hardest days may have been the 1980s, with the prime rate around 21 percent. When churches added to their buildings, they still often were not able to meet their needs because of costs. “They did what they could do,” Johnson says, still sounding regretful that he wasn’t able to help them more.

When helping Covenant institutions that struggled to pay off their loans, Johnson has approached the situation with pastoral concern. As a result, no church has ever defaulted.

“Because of our financial strength, we can work with these situations,” Johnson says. “We can come alongside our other partners, including the conferences, to help the churches.”

In addition to aiding ministry expansion, Johnson also is charged with increasing the investments of NCP’s investors. By law, all of the investors have to be connected with the denomination.

Believing in the mission

The ministry of NCP works because investors believe in the mission and get a good financial return, Johnson says. “We try always to be competitive. We can’t just ask the investors to give us money.”

The impressive increase in NCP assets has not been due to large investors. “This is about the $500, $1,000, and $10,000 investors,” Johnson says. “That’s our bread and butter.”

NCP has kept its customers happy, having established strong, loyal ties. For example, the ministry offered its first IRA in 1978, Johnson says. “That person is still with us.”

The loyalty and skills of a small staff also enabled the success of NCP, Johnson says. “There have been some incredibly talented people here, and it’s been a pleasure to learn from them.”

Johnson has sought to expand the denomination as a whole, but he has been committed to his local congregation, which his father, a bricklayer, helped build. He has been with the church as it grew, stayed when it did not, and has received people from around the world as they became new residents.

“I’ve always felt that was where I should be,” Johnson says. “That’s where I learned about the Lord.”

Roughly 80 people attend Immanuel, and 14 different languages are spoken. As one of the church leaders, Johnson has made sure they feel welcome. “It’s been my church, and I’ve wanted them to feel that it is their church, too.”

“It is hard to consider that David is leaving,” says the congregation’s pastor, Linnea Carnes. “He is the last person at Immanuel who was born into this church.”

Carnes says Johnson’s compassionate ministry has strengthened the church and prepared it for the future. “When the old leadership was ready to step down, he helped younger members assume leadership and then was there to help them grow and become leaders.  David has encouraged people from other ethnicities to step into leadership.”

She adds, “David recognized that Immanuel is still the neighborhood church and the immigrant church it was earlier in its history. His wisdom and leadership has been a gift.”

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