How one church planter went from “overdrawn” to seeing transformation in Centralia, Ill.

How one church planter went from “overdrawn” to seeing transformation in Centralia, Ill.

When Parable took over the daily accounting tasks, church planter Seth Baltzell of City Hope Church could breathe again—and focus on the outreach he felt called to do.

A Church Planter Sees His Hometown in Need

Seth Baltzell was on the cusp of a distinctly unsafe decision. He had a secure job as an associate pastor at a Houston-area church. But he was feeling a call from God to move back home to Centralia, Ill., to plant a church and bring hope to the city.

Centralia had always seemed like a struggling community to Seth. “You could feel darkness creeping in,” he says. The population was in decline. Faith was in decline. Factories were shutting down. Poverty and addiction were on the rise. 

“If Jesus were planting a church, what kind of environments would he be in? The most hurting environments,” Seth says.

“If Jesus were planting a church, what kind of environments would he be in? The most hurting environments.”

Seth Baltzell

So Seth moved back home, and in 2012, he founded City Hope Church with the mission of bringing hope to Centralia one heart at a time.

The congregation grew to about four hundred people, and when they needed a space to meet, they started looking at the old elementary school building, which had just gone up for public auction.

The church raised $1,500 and sent Seth to the auction. There were only two people there. Bidding started at $1. 

Seth’s offer of $7,500 was accepted. He had to put 10 percent down, so he wrote a check for $750—half the church’s money.

In the next month, Seth raised the rest of the money—acting as a fundraiser, bookkeeper, and pastor all at the same time.

In Over Their Heads

Seth has a business degree and knew just enough about finances to be dangerous. He had one part-time employee helping with worship services. But, he did everything else on his own: paying bills, entering metrics, managing the books.

“My hands were tied where I wasn’t able to lead the team we had. I wasn’t able to pour into our church. I wasn’t able to spend the time visioning on the buildings and getting the nonprofits together. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all.

I wasn’t able to pour into our church. I wasn’t able to spend the time visioning on the buildings and getting the nonprofits together. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all.

Seth Baltzell

One day, Seth was eating at a Chinese restaurant with his son when he got an alert that the church’s account was $100 overdrawn. Something’s gotta give here, he thought. He got a few volunteers helping with the church’s finances, then hired a part-time person.

At first, things were better. The church started to gain momentum. They had $20,000 in the bank, $30,000 in the bank.

But then the church identified an accounting error and realized they were overestimating the money they had by $10,000 to $15,000.

That was a huge margin of error with such a small budget.

It was then Seth began to realize that if City Hope Church was to move forward, he needed a trusted partner to help his team oversee the financial side of the ministry.

Better Accountability. More Confidence and Trust.

In 2015, Seth met Greg Daley, Parable’s chief visionary officer, at an ARC ministry-coaching event, just on the heels of discovering the big accounting error.

“I thought, I gotta talk to them because I’m sick of doing this the way we’re doing it,” Seth says.

After Greg asked about the church’s mission, vision, and values, he asked what City Hope Church needed first.

Seth said, “Can you get our books in order?”

Parable came alongside the church to help with the budgets, the line items, and structuring the books. And as things started to get into a monthly rhythm, Seth realized he could breathe.

That brought confidence, plus a sense of accountability to the church. He felt he gained trust with people in the church and the board members.

Better awareness of where the church’s money was going also helped clarify and realign the church’s work toward what it cared about.

“We say we’re all about the next generation, but then you look at expenses. If all your money is going into production, are you really about the next generation?”

“We say we’re all about the next generation, but then you look at expenses. If all your money is going into production, are you really about the next generation?”

Seth Baltzell

With the finances in order and the congregation onboard, City Hope Church was able to start tackling bigger projects that were in line with its mission. 

Pastor and Church Able to Dream Big Again

Even before purchasing the elementary school, Seth had always wanted to take over the old high school building and turn it into a ministry center. The high school’s theater held a special place in his heart: It was in that room, during a youth revival in 2004, that Seth felt the call from God to enter ministry full time.

But the dream of repurposing the high school seemed out of reach. The building cost $1 million. He watched over the years as the building became more and more dilapidated.

In 2018, during a prayer event, Seth felt God speaking to him again—telling him to go after the high school.

The owners offered him the building for $90,000, way less than Seth had expected. He fundraised to cover the cost. Soon, the old high school building belonged to City Hope Church. They started by remodeling the theater and tearing down a building for parking.

“Since the 1880s, that has been the site of the high school, so every person who went through this community for a hundred plus years, we all had that in common,” Seth says. “It speaks to the restoration piece of what God does in our lives.”

During all this, Parable was behind the scenes, taking care of the day-to-day operations so Seth could focus on dreaming big and fundraising for the high school remodel. As City Hope Church has continued to grow and has hired additional pastors, Seth has become more hands-off with the finances than ever.

Investing in the Next Generation

Today, City Hope Church is healthy and solid. The church is currently remodeling its Next Gen space, an area for teens to hang out on Sunday nights. 

Additionally, they’re already giving away clothing, hygiene items, and school supplies to people in need. In 2023, they will focus on outreach by developing a Dream Center run completely by volunteers. Seth also is looking at a grant to use some of the other high school buildings as a nonprofit incubator.

That’s City Hope Church in action with its ministries—and its money—on mission, helping the entire community of Centralia by bringing hope to the city one heart at a time.

That’s City Hope Church in action with its ministries—and its money—on mission, helping the entire community of Centralia by bringing hope to the city one heart at a time.

“Not everybody in your church understands church finances,” Seth says. “People say, ‘So-and-so’s a CPA,’ but they don’t understand church finances.”

But Parable does.

On investing in a relationship with Parable, Seth says, “There’s some things you just have to make the decision to do. You don’t know until you do it what it will gain you. All we can see is the cost, but there’s cost involved in everything. Stewardship is making the best use of your resources. Just try it! Give it a shot for six months, give it a shot for a year.”

Get Your Ministry’s Money On Mission

Parable is a team of financial storytellers with superpowers in accounting, bookkeeping, and consulting. We help leaders place every dollar on mission so they can feel more accountable and secure in their ministries.

To start a conversation about placing your money on mission, book a call with one of our experts today.