Raising Money for Ministry:
Dollars Come with Change
by Bernice Sanders Smoot, Saint Wall Street
(This is the first of seven articles introducing Bible-based Best Practices for ministry fundraising.)
If you’re like most Christian ministry leaders, you’re finding it harder these days to raise money. You’ve tried community fundraisers, grant writing, and perhaps even soliciting companies for donations, but nothing has worked. You could blame the shortfall on today’s financially troubled times, except you know that God is your source and He’s never broke. So, what’s the problem?
In 2004, according to empty tomb, Americans donated $88.30 billion to religion, while spending a whopping $705 billion on entertainment and recreation. Statistical data reported by The Barna Group and Generous Giving, two more Christian watchdog groups, suggest that perhaps Christian ministry is losing support because it is losing believers.
• Only 51% of Americans today say they are Protestant, compared to 53% in 2001. (That’s a loss of about four million believers.)
• Of the one in three Americans raised Catholic, one in four says they still are.
• One in four young adults (18-29) claims they are affiliated with any religion at all.
What’s more, the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy reports that $41 trillion in Baby Boomer wealth has begun transferring to a younger generation – a generation largely recognized as un-churched. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports membership in Atheist Alliance International practically doubled in 2007. That same year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation says its membership grew by an unprecedented 50%, on top of a 25% increase in 2006. And, a report from the Christian Broadcasting Network recently announced the United Nations held a meeting supporting a one-world religion that doesn’t include Jesus.
Like you, Peter had to grow his Christian ministry in an anti-Christian society. In fact, the people of his day had just crucified Jesus. Nonetheless, Peter managed to draw from them thousands of believers who funded his ministry until “there were no more needy persons among them.”
We like to believe successful leaders are self-made. But, self is sinfully programmed, not to do good, but to do what makes self feels good. This is why we have so many leaders we’re inclined to chase instead of follow. I submit that, had self been in charge, Peter would have used the money that poured into his ministry for his own benefit.
When, in 1997, I started helping ministries with fundraising, I believed all Christian ministry leaders were faithful, selfless followers of Christ. While indeed I found most are, I was surprised to discover “the others.” These leaders were allowing self to block their ministry’s money blessing!
First, I encountered Christian ministry leaders who consider their ministry their baby. No one else can ensure its well being, so they control everything. But, trusting only self to meet the needs of ministry means not trusting others God has called to serve according to their gifts. It also means working harder and accomplishing less. As donors and grant makers want to support the most accomplished programs, selfish control inhibits fundraising success.
The temptation to rely on self over God was the first Jesus faced after his baptism.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "
Jesus would not consider even his own body as his baby. He made clear that well-being is not up to self alone, but requires reliance on God’s wisdom.
Next, I encountered ministry leaders with super-sized egos. Their desire to serve is compromised by the desire to gain power and prestige. Not only do their self-serving interests run counter to the intent of charity, they oppose the God-given purpose of ministry. It is said that “ego” stands for Edging God Out. Leaders who operate God-ordained ministries to exalt themselves dismiss along with God, His financial blessings.
In the second temptation of Christ, Satan tried to give rise to ego in Jesus.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "
Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'
As the Son of God Jesus could certainly fly like Superman. But, he didn’t give in to the devil dare. He knew better than to embrace an ego that would reduce God to serving him.
Finally, I encountered ministry leaders who are just plain greedy. Worshipping money above God, they use ministry donations to enrich their lives. Fraud is an illegal act that breaches the public trust. Its consequences include not only support lost for their ministry, but support compromised for every Christian ministry, due to guilt by association.
Saving his best temptation for last, Satan sought to inspire greed in Jesus:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "
Jesus elected to pass on attaining wealth beyond any man’s wildest dreams, to instead stay true to serving God, faithfully and selflessly.
Key to a ministry worth funding is leadership worth supporting.
Before it was possible for Peter’s ministry to flourish, he had to let go of self. Although he loved Jesus, he had three times demonstrated a higher regard for his own life. Before Jesus “reinstated” him to ministry, Peter had to three times reaffirm his commitment to serve faithfully. (John 21:15-17)
Faithful, selfless leaders have integrity. Integrity is defined as the “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code” or “the state of being unimpaired.” It is such a sought-after quality it led the list of the most looked-up words in 2005. (source: w-m.com.)
Integrity is also the Christ-like quality it takes to build relationships that pay.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a $53.4 million ministry. Since 1954, it has challenged coaches and athletes to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. Prior to launching FCA, Don McClanen had had his share of difficulties. Although he had been raised Christian, he didn’t feel personally connected with God. When his wife lost their first child, McClanen decided to find Jesus. He sought out a church, kneeled and asked the Lord to come into his heart. According to McClanen, “that was the conversion of this cantankerous soul.” It was also the beginning of a leader who would grow the first and largest ministry of Christian athletes committed to championing Jesus.
In 2006, FCA touched more than two million lives. Heading its Statement of Values is:
We will demonstrate Christ-like wholeness, privately, and publicly.
A ministry led by self is limited by self. God had bigger plans for Peter’s ministry than Peter could ever execute on his own. By changing his focus from satisfying self to fulfilling God’s purpose, Peter qualified himself for Christ-like leadership. Jesus then gave him a single instruction. Faithful obedience enabled Peter to cultivate believers who provided his ministry all the money it needed.
In John 21:19, Jesus said to Peter, "Follow me." Hence, the first of the seven Bible-based Best Practices that I call “Peter’s Principles for Extreme Fundraising” is:
Commit to follow the leader.
Don’t let self block the money blessings God has planned for your ministry. Pray for a servant’s heart and craft Christ-like leadership values that all who serve the ministry must honor. For a free template, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next upcoming article: “Focus on the Doughnut, Not the Hole.”
Bernice Sanders Smoot is president of Saint Wall Street and a champion for Christian ministry. She provides training, coaching and speaking services to help ministries across America increase support. Since 1997, her trainings have been hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives, Christian membership organizations, and Christian universities. Ms. Smoot also is a co-founder of the Affinity Chapter of Faith-based Capacity Builders under the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, and has been a featured radio guest addressing faith-based and minority community development. She is a member of the non-denominational Craig Memorial Community Church in Chapel Oaks, MD.