Craig Dunn understands the importance of family. His dad, John A. Dunn, was a pastor with a real estate background. Eventually, John became the Wesleyan Investment Foundation’s chief executive officer, a position he held for a quarter century. The younger Dunn became an attorney, serving as legal counsel to the Wesleyan Church and daily spending time in the office with his dad.
“He needed somebody to bounce ideas off,” Dunn said. “We talked about WIF every day for the 13 years I worked in the denominational office. When he retired, WIF asked me to interview for the position. Eventually, they hired me to take his place.”
Today, the Wesleyan Investment Foundation (WIF) continues to develop into one of the nation’s largest faith-based investment organizations. It includes more than 9000 investors and a fund that has grown to nearly $2 billion. Still, WIF manages to welcome every investor and loan holder as more than business associates.
They are part of the family, partners in reaching the world with God’s love and growing his kingdom.
A great opportunity for Converge churches of all sizes
WIF was founded in 1946 out of a need for churches ― especially new churches ― to gain funding for property and buildings. Securing a loan from banks that don’t understand how churches operate was, and still is, difficult.
Initially, a small number of investors pooled a few thousand dollars to help fund Wesleyan congregations. Soon, parishioners were invited to invest in what would become the Wesleyan Investment Foundation to make loans to churches.
In essence, 75 years later, that’s what it still does, but on a much grander scale. WIF focuses on helping local churches get the facilities and tools they need to do ministry and helping them fund their vision for reaching the lost for Christ.
They still have a heart for church planting and invest a large amount of money into church planting movements. But they have a capacity to serve all churches, regardless of size or years of ministry.
“Now, we handle the big loans and the small ones,” Dunn said. “We do loans of any size. A $5,000 loan to a small church is just as important as a $5 million loan to a larger church.”
So, when Converge’s Board of Overseers examined the future of the Cornerstone Fund (Converge’s former investment and church lending arm), it became apparent that partnering with WIF would increase kingdom growth by serving more churches.
“We are standing on the shoulders of the team that started the Cornerstone Fund,” former Converge president Scott Ridout said. “They made great decisions and took advantage of some opportunities (that helped spur church growth).
“We realized that the fund was growing, but not at the same pace as Converge,” he continued. “We saw a trend of larger churches and smaller church plants going other places for loans because the Cornerstone Fund just didn’t have the capacity to make that happen. As we discussed how we can best serve the whole of Converge ― the large churches, the small churches, the church plants ― we knew we had a great opportunity with WIF.”
Dunn, meanwhile, was excited to partner with Converge for another important reason: He is a member of a Converge church.
“I have been attending Heartland Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, for more than a decade,” Dunn said. “Darryn Scheske (who serves as the chairman of Converge’s Board of Overseers) is the pastor. So, we love Converge.”
If WIF is not about the transaction, what is it about?
WIF’s love for its partners spills over into its organizational mentality.
“We have a ‘Say Yes’ culture,” Dunn said. “Our default position is that if a church needs something or has a vision for getting a facility or tool to reach their communities for Christ, our answer is ‘yes.’ And then we try to figure out how to do it after that.
“For the kingdom’s sake, instead of being suspicious of the church and putting them through the wringer, our mentality is to figure out how to get to ‘yes.’ Asking questions that relate to their ability to do what they’re trying to do will come during the due-diligence process.
“But one of the first things we love to hear when we work with a church is their story. We want to hear what their dream is for their church and for their community. And then we try to figure out how we can become a part of making sure that happens.”
Dunn said this mentality is one of the primary differences between working with WIF or with secular lending institutions. Other lending institutions are focused on transactions, concerned more about numbers than impact.
And while Dunn says financial questions are an essential part of the process, he is adamant that they are not his team’s focus.
“It’s not a transaction we’re looking for,” he said. “It’s a relationship. We can get the job done with transactions, but we’re relational first and transactional second.
“If we can’t give a church an immediate ‘yes,’ we try to figure out how we can get them to a ‘yes’ during the process.
It’s a mentality with a proven track record. WIF has never had to foreclose on a loan it has provided.
What does a Wesleyan organization know about working with non-Wesleyan churches?
When Dunn stepped into his position in 2000, WIF held more than 95% of the loans provided to all Wesleyan churches. But his team’s scope of reach and kingdom help was limited to their denomination. So, the board of directors began examining their activities from a kingdom perspective versus a denominational perspective.
They began to walk through the idea they could do much more for God’s kingdom than what they were doing by working only with Wesleyan churches. A couple of years later, they started providing loans to churches outside the denomination with similar theological and philosophical values.
Today, approximately 75% of WIF’s loans are to churches outside the Wesleyan denomination.
Many of WIF’s loan recipients are members of both Converge and the Association of Related Churches. Dunn began following ARC in 2010 and noticed its success in planting and growing larger churches, many of which had grown to more than 1000 regular attendees within two years after they launched.
Dunn spent a lot of time with ARC leaders to make sure he not only understood how WIF could best serve them but also to make sure the two groups fit together.
“We loved what they were doing for the kingdom, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Dunn said. “We sat down with them and asked how we could help, and a great partnership came from that. ARC found an organization willing to look at everything that came across its desk that could help church plants from a property or building standpoint.
“And for us, it was natural to give to an organization that plants churches because that was our background. Our start in 1946 was with new churches.”
Converge board’s due diligence leads to a unanimous conclusion
Converge’s Board of Overseers had been looking for ways to provide loan opportunities for a broader range of churches and left no stone unturned.
Over several months, the board examined five organizations to potentially partner with, all of which had a higher lending capacity than the Cornerstone Fund. They spent significant time with each one, comparing apples-to-apples, looking at the size and scope of each organization, their returns, their investment abilities and the quality and longevity of their staff, among other traits.
The board concluded through extensive research and interactions that the Wesleyan Investment Foundation was the best match for Converge. WIF would be able to serve the entirety of the Converge movement while still holding to Converge’s values of Scripture, the Great Commission and church planting, and having a demonstrated track record of generosity toward those they serve.
When it came time for the board to vote, they unanimously agreed to move forward with the Wesleyan Investment Foundation. WIF’s culture proved to be one of the deciding factors.
“There is a culture at WIF that is so important,” Ridout said. “There is a culture of believing in church plants and of generosity and of ‘We’re family, not just a financial institution.’ We want a partner in ministry and a family like we’ve always had in Converge.”
A formal connection between Converge and WIF
The relationship between Converge and the Wesleyan Investment Foundation goes beyond WIF’s designation as a preferred lender. It’s a partnership.
Following the November 2021 agreement between the two organizations, Converge’s Board of Overseers invited Dunn to become a member. A Converge member also serves on WIF’s board, further securing the relationship in the years ahead.
This formalized connection ensures that each organization will hear the other’s voice. We’re in this together, just as families should be. So, when the Converge and WIF families began working together, we all experienced the Better Together mantra in a new way.
“We are (Converge) fans,” Dunn said. “We are all in on what we can do to help. There is an opportunity for tremendous growth. The potential is huge for Converge to make some really big, positive moves for the kingdom, and we want to be a part of it and to contribute everything we can.”
Stoking a small flame into a roaring blaze
The potential Dunn speaks of is rooted in what Converge is today and projects decades out. It’s a small flame that can be stoked into a roaring blaze.
“What’s really beautiful in Converge is the spirit of collegiality, the openness in working with others and in bringing others in churches that don’t have a national home or regional support system,” Dunn said. “I think the evangelical church as a whole is ripe for coming together and doing more collectively than what we can be and do separately. And I think Converge is uniquely positioned to be able to do that.
“To put it bluntly, I think in 10 years Converge can become a movement of 5000 or more churches,” Dunn continued. “I think it’s entirely possible.
“There’s a spirit of generosity, of collegiality, of accepting others and looking beyond the traditional things that have kept us apart. I’m talking about the logical things that aren’t going to make a difference as to whether people make it to heaven or not. We’ve got to put some of those differences aside and work together for the kingdom.
“That’s what the spirit of Converge is. The very name itself is about coming together. And if we can live up to that name ― Converge ― and operate from a mindset of generosity rather than a scarcity mentality, Converge can become so attractive that the number of churches can triple in a very short time.”