Missions Priority

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In my role of helping churches understand and engage with global missions, I am sometimes asked, “How much of our church’s budget should be devoted to missions?”  It is a question that I have struggled to answer.  The situations of churches are so varied.  Some are so small or are composed of people who are barely keeping food on the table such that it is hard to see how ministry beyond their own community is possible at all.  Others are of a size and/or have members who have experienced much greater financial blessings, which makes significant investment in global ministry much easier. 

Some years ago I ran across a book called (excuse the title) Today’s All-Star Missions Churches.  In addition to telling the stories of a number of churches that are very committed to international ministry, the book provided some statistics.  Each of the featured churches gave between 20% and 30% of their total budget to missions beyond the local area. 

Many of them, perhaps all, were highly involved in local ministries as well.  I don’t think the book’s intention was to say that you should ignore your neighbor across the street in order to minister to your neighbor around the world.  We live in a world of need.  Addressing issues of injustice, poverty and abuse as well sharing the basic Gospel message with unchurched Harry and Mary locally must be central to the Church’s ministry if our global ministries are to have any credibility.

Still, we shouldn’t allow the pendulum to swing so far toward local ministry that the massive needs outside our communities are only addressed if they offer opportunities for our members.  God calls us to love our neighbors near and far and to bring them comprehensive Good News in both word and deed. 

All this caused me to ask about churches that I am familiar with.  What percentage of total giving are our churches investing in global missions, outside the church’s neighborhood?  I picked a church that I knew was providing the full amount of requested Ministry Shares.  A large percentage of Ministry Shares giving goes to fund missions, which isn’t always taken into account when analyzing missions giving.  At the church I looked at about 6% of total giving is going toward Ministry Shares supporting three denominational missions agencies.  Another 1% is going toward missions efforts at the classical level.  4% of total giving is being invested in missions beyond the local area through a missions fund (sometimes called Faith Promise).  The total is 11%.  This doesn’t count the portion of Ministry Shares that is funding educational institutions, efforts to oppose abuse and racial discrimination, efforts to support justice, etc.  If all of that were counted, the total would be about 16%.

I suspect that this is on the high end for Christian Reformed churches, but some careful survey work would be necessary to confirm that.  I wonder what you would discover if you did this kind of analysis of your congregation.  Is this about the right amount?  Or should we be pushing for an increase in order to do more internationally?  Or, should we be doing less there and more here in our own neighborhoods?  Of course, this only measures dollars, not person-hours invested.  That would require a different kind of calculation.  I would love to hear the comments of others on these questions.

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Hi Steve,

This is an interesting topic and I urge you on to dig deeper into this subject. For immediate feedback here is our church's result:

Ministry Shares /Classis  18%
Salaries                            35%
Local Ministries                17%
Property/Adm.                  12%
World Renew                     5%
Deacons                            4%
Church's own foreign         8%
                                       100%

To get to the total foreign content you need to add WR, WM share of Ministry Shares and the 8% we spend directly what we would call Foreign Missions. About 50%/60% of the amount goes to the Airline companies to get our folks to the local mission field.

I have asked this question before. How much does CRCNA HO (Burlington/Grand Rapids/Chicago) spend on travel in one year by employees of CRCNA who are stationed in these three location (and in Canada and USA) but travel to foreign mission and foreign aid sites?  If you then add to that the cost of transporting Missionaries on their bi-annual or tri-annual leave to their home countries we would get a the real costs of "doing" foreign missions.

Also with the influx of some 1.2 million people per year into North America from all over the world, maybe we should focus "World Missions" on those entering North America! That then becomes local evangelism or Home Missions.

As a general principle the CRCNA should  get to a position of having only indigenous people as missionaries on the ground in foreign fields (immigrants to NA who would be willing to return to their own country would of course qualify).

I believe many governments are now requiring immigrants to be proficient in English (or French for Quebec or other languages for other countries) in order to qualify to enter the country. The same rule should apply to "our" missionaries going to foreign countries.

Hi Harry,

Just to be clear, I wasn't aiming to calculate only foreign missions.  Instead I was counting budgeted amounts that go to ministry outside the local neighborhood.  So, that would include budgeted funding for a campus ministry or church plant in some other part of Canada or the US.  I was including Ministry Shares for Home Missions and Back to God as well as World Missions.  I also wasn't taking into account funds raised by offerings that are not budgeted, nor support for local benevolence, Christian education and the like. 

So, looking at the numbers you provided my guess would be that your denominational and classical Ministry Shares are about 40% missions so that would be 7% of your overall budget.  Adding your last category of "Church's own foreign" (8%) and World Renew (5%), I'm thinking your total is about 20%.  I'd say that is excellent.

I'm curious about your focus on travel costs.  They are significant of course, but by far the biggest cost of doing foreign missions are the salaries paid to personnel.  The travel costs are much smaller. 

About 27% of the world's people live in people groups where there are few or no Christians.  In those settings there aren't any indigenous people to do the mission work, of course.  Also, most missionaries do spend a substantial portion of their first term in language study, but we also have people come to us with significant language background before they start, especially Spanish.