“The traditional Western approaches to the funding of missions seem increasingly inadequate,” writes Ellen Livingood in a 2007 Interchange Posting. “As costs have soared over the past several decades, many ‘faith-based’ agencies have watched the percentage of missionaries’ funding coming from local churches sharply decrease. Often churches’ undesignated agency support has declined even more steeply.”
“What about the denominational pooled-support model?” Livingood asks. “With the erosion of organizational loyalty, many see dwindling motivation for younger generations to support missions unless a direct connection between church and missionary can be established. Detachment, even distrust, describes younger generations’ attitudes about institutions, and it becomes evident in the offering plate. Donors want to know ‘how my money is being spent.’ Motivation for giving seems to be shifting. These factors will make it increasingly difficult for denominations to fund missionary salaries from large pooled accounts.”
The Christian Reformed Church is not immune to this phenomenon, as evidenced by Christian Reformed World Missions' decision this past year to change its funding model.
World Renew, in response to similar trends in church giving, implemented a country focus earlier this year. This country approach helps churches focus on the ministry that is being done in that country, not necessarily the person that is doing it. Many of our staff members are more comfortable encouraging support of the ministry rather than their own positions. World Renew also hires many in-country staff who are not from the U.S. or Canada, and who do not have a built-in CRC connection. One challenge to this approach is that some churches decide their budgets based on how much missionaries need to raise and what percent of goal they have reached. However, World Renew overseas staff are not required to raise specific amounts. Which means if a church is deciding based on “who needs it more,” they might be more inclined to fund a non World Renew staff who has an explicit fundraising goal.
Even though our overseas staff members are not required to raise a specific amount, this does not mean they do not need your support and your church’s support. World Renew has never received ministry shares. Church support is key to keep the work of relief and development going around the world through World Renew.
These are just two of the many potential approaches that missions agencies could take. Note: I'm not as familiar with the approaches Home Missions and Back to God Ministries have taken in response to these trends, but I'd guess they face similar issues.
As giving trends continue to shift, I suspect that more conversations will be needed around this topic in the CRCNA. Some of the questions that will need to be answered are asked by Livingood:
- How can agencies help churches and missionaries develop the kinds of relationships that serve both?
- Many pastors and church leaders, even salaried missions administrators, admit that they would not be willing to raise support. How do we come to grips with the underlying distastefulness of this approach?
- How can agencies encourage churches to commit larger amounts of support for missionaries, even if that means fewer workers? Is there some way to redistribute support so that current missionaries who have 20, 40 or more churches spread over a wide geographic area could centralize their support and therefore have a greater impact on their supporting churches?
- Could a church approach part or all of its mission funding as a capital funds campaign? What would that look like?
- What if one church or a group of churches chose to designate their funds for a major initiative rather than for individual workers? Personnel could be "hired" with the pooled funds and added and released as their gifts were needed and they were available.
- What other creative approaches are out there?
Has your missions committee given any thought to these new approaches? How do you decide which missionaries to support?