The question crossed my mind, “What if non-profits are no longer fundable? What does this mean for churches and presbyteries? How will we fund the church in the future?”
I have been asking these questions in the places where I serve as a leadership and stewardship consultant and teaching elder. Until recently, I was a fund raiser for campus ministries in North Carolina, now I am an interim pastor of a small church. Also, I chair my presbytery’s stewardship committee and leadership division of committees, am a member of its Administrative Board and the presbytery’s Transitional Task Force, which is looking, in part, at the future funding structure of our presbytery.
In each context, questions about the future funding of the church and presbyteries are becoming more focused and urgent.
What am I seeing? The funding of the church and presbyteries is in transition. This year, 2012, has been the worst year for fund raising that I’ve seen in 30+ years of involvement with churches, non-profits and fund raising campaigns. I see a change in the way people are managing their charitable dollar. Our assumption about the importance of the deductibility of non-profit and church donations as a solid reason for people to give is no longer as certain. In a disruptive global economic climate, cash in hand means more than a tax deduction. Other people may see something different, but this is what I see.
What then distinguishes givers from non-givers? I believe it is fairly simple. Givers have a clear sense of mission and a spirit of generosity. They are focused in their giving, and give to designated causes in order to meet their own sense of responsibility as a steward of their wealth. They give generously if the church’s mission matches their commitments. Being missional is the key to sustaining membership giving.
What else do I see? The most troubling phenomenon that I see in the church is the withholding of funds to coerce change. This intentional weakening of the structure is a reaction to the politicization of the church in society at large. This practice of protest, in my opinion, has no justification. Yet, it is widely practiced. The practical result is that it exacerbates the historic pattern of church and presbytery budgets being funded by a small number of individuals and churches. This reality should be openly discussed in churches and presbyteries.
How will the church in the future be funded? There are two answers to this question.
First, churches will be funded as they always have, by people who are committed to the mission of the church. Therefore it is imperative that every local congregation and every presbytery have a very clear mission that creates the conditions for both financial and spiritual sustainability.
Second, churches will be funded as the church adapts to the changes in organizational structures that are taking place in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds. These two worlds, non- and for- profit, are beginning to morph into new types of organizations. An environmental organization where I am an advisor is in the process of converting from a non-profit to a for-profit in order to diversify the way it funds its research work. Creatively linking a for-profit business with a philanthropic foundation with a non-profit organization is a possible way for traditional non-profit organizations to find new resources. Just as a growing number of ministers serve bi-vocationally, so can an association of local churches develop ways of generating revenue to support the mission of the church.
What should your church do now?
First, don’t preach about being generous. It sounds desperate. Instead celebrate God’s call into mission and the impact of your church’s programs and ministries. Celebrating generous giving is a response to God’s grace at work through the church.
Second, integrate your congregation’s mission focus into every aspect of the life of your congregation. Make sure you can demonstrate the tangible difference your mission makes through each of your programs and ministries.
Third, be honest and transparent about your budget and your sources of income.
Start now, while you have the opportunity.
Dr. Ed Brenegar is a life-long Presbyterian, a Tar Heel born and bred, teaching elder for three decades, a validated minister serving as a leadership consultant, a life / work transition coach, creator of The Stewardship of Gratitude strategy and The Circle of Impact Conversation Guides, occasional interim minister, honored blogger, speaker, and restless inquisitor of the impact of God’s grace in our time. Find Ed online at: Leading Questions blog and At The Table of Thanks: Presbyterian Life & Mission.