Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best Practices in Funding?

The question of how to finance missions is always challenging. In almost every congregation I visit the pastor expresses concern about the future of their local church involvement. For the most part, mission giving is provided by those who are fifty years of age and older. Those who are below fifty may be involved in mission giving but less are inclined to give to the church program and instead give to projects they are interested in ranging from everything from Tsunami relief to orphanages to their friends going on short-term trips. Those below thirty usually give to projects they will directly be a part of in exploratory overseas trips. So how will missions be funded in the future?

– Started in the 1950’s, faith promise was a program that suggested that people, by faith, promised God that they would give a certain amount of money each month, above their regular tithes and offerings, to missions. Collectively, the church would take up the faith promise pledge each year to determine their mission budget. It was a good system for the first thirty years. Partly because of the social structure of the church between 1955 and 1975, church members believed in and participated in top down organizational giving. Those who were a part of faith promise in those years are now over fifty years old and many are in their seventies and eighties.

Vietnam, the peace movement, Nixon’s resignation was a sociological sea change in America as people began to question authority and institutional structures. As a result of that societal shift, people began to see the church for what it provided to them personally and giving to the corporate structure began to wane.

Another reason faith promise giving has diminished is because the church did not have a solid mission strategy. What was the purpose of missions? Indeed, what was missions? Did it include youth camps in the U.S., local radio ministries, and prison ministries? I can remember in the heyday of faith promise churches hired mission intern staff and paid their salaries out of the mission budget. Missions then became the family who ran the youth or children’s ministry. Perhaps one reason faith promise is not appealing to the present generation is that missions is not well defined. Giving to a general fund is no longer attractive.

COMBINED BUDGET – Some churches, though I know of very few, have a combined budget where a percentage of all income goes to world evangelism. Theoretically this is a good program. IF people will support the church finances, automatically fifteen to twenty-five percent of all income will go to missions. Under this plan a mission’s budget can be developed and it will be sustained whether people give directly to missions or not. Theoretically, as the church grows so, too, does their worldwide outreach. This seems to be better in today’s climate as I see many churches growing, starting new ministry projects, building new facilities and as the congregation grows so does their missions program. The combined budget has two weaknesses.

First, if the church does not grow, neither does the mission outreach. Small churches, especially, struggle to make ends meet. If the local congregation is stagnant or in decline it will obviously affect how much can be allotted to mission projects.

Secondly, a combined budget does not address the need for this generation to become personally involved in missions. To tap into their needs, the church missions program will have to do more to create interest beyond the four walls of the assembly.

WHAT TO DO? - It seems that now, more than ever before, the church needs to do two things to enhance their mission’s outreach.

1. There needs to be a concentrated and intentional creation of a mission’s strategy. This will include a definition of what is missions, what the church is trying to accomplish with their mission investment and what type of ministries and people they will support to reach that goal.

2. Allow people to be involved in missions outside the local assembly. Though this is a controversial suggestion among some churches, it is a method that has been around for many years. The Navigators have for years have solicited support from family and friends. It’s a method that allows people to have a personal and vested interest in how they will support missions. But, like all methods, it has its problems, which I will discuss in a future post.

I do not believe there is an either/or solution for raising mission awareness or funding. It’s very possible that faith promise, combined budget and personal giving can be incorporated into a cohesive plan. The greater challenge is thinking about how we can do missions better.