My wife and I have been involved in missions for over 14 years. In the early years we did not know much of anyting about raising support. We never went out on deputation. Our home church provided over 80% of our support. We did okay. I taught missions and sometimes spoke of raising support. I liked to note that in raising support it is not that important to focus on need… because everyone has needs. I made the argument that the three most important things are demonstrating:
Then close to four years ago we were notified that we were about to have our support from our home church cut off. Most all of the church leadership thought we knew what was going on in the church… but of the two people whose primary job was to keep us updated, one had left the church, and the other was in the process of being overwhelmed by personal problems and so had stopped updating us or answering our questions.
At this time I began to understand the problem we had. We were rapidly transitioning from 100% support to less than 20%. I did not really know how to raise support— and even less doing so from a distance. At that same time tax law changed in the US (or at least how existing tax law was being interpreted) so it was even harder to get support as an independent missionary. We did not have the resources to estabish a 501c3 organization in the country. (Americans tend to think that tax-deductibility of religious giving is a God-given right— no idea where they got that thought.)
I looked into other options, including going back to the US to teach or pastor— meager options indeed. Strangely, we discovered that we could continue. Another church began to support us, as well as a few others on a regular or occasional basis. We found that we were able to get by. Our cost of living was higher than our support, and our residual funds began to decline, but much more slowly than we expected. In the end, we think that we are able to persevere.
But this chapter had gotten me thinking more about support raising. I paid more attention to those who succeed in this aspect of ministry and those who don’t. I got some information from a person we know who was (he has stepped out of professional ministry) part of a Christian organization that took support-raising of its membership very seriously. This organization had its members raise support in the same place where they are doing ministry (there are conveniences to this, I can see).
This organization would give its ministers a list of contacts. The contacts were not the only ones they were supposed to contact, but were certainly supposed to start there. They were given support goals, both overall support and weekly goals, of both monthly support and one-time gifts. Each minister was supposed to list everyone he (or she) contacted by email or phone, list which ones he was able to establish face-to-face appointments with, list the ones he was able to personally challenge to support, and what type and amount of financial support he received. Every week this report had to be turned in by each minister, the spreadsheets updated and new sheets with updated goals and contacts given out. Curiously, this particular group received considerable out-of-area support that went to the organization to support the individual ministers. Perhaps the support-raising process was to train members how to do that part of the work. Still the sheer number of hours needed weekly to do this, when it seemed as if it wasn’t all that necessary, makes me wonder whether the support-raising may have had a deleterious effect on their primary ministry work.
I have noted a number of independent missionaries who were especially dedicated to support-raising. On a positive side, they tended to have MASSIVE networking skills. I am still amazed at how some people we work with from very different denominations and ministry types were well familiar with certain missionaries and even were supporting them, or encouraged to do so. Negatively, often these same missionaries did less organizing of missions than linking themselves to the mission work that others were doing. This is quite understandable. The hours needed for networking and support-raising can certainly conflict with the time needed in the visioning, planning, implementating, and evaluating of primary mission tasks. While it may be true that in a team success is shared, but in support-raising it is quite tempting to take a small role and give the impression of being indispensible.
I have also seen missionary websites that appear to be little more than an electronic commercial for supporting their ministry. They seem to have taken their website design from some of the more notorious Christian TV personalities. I am thinking of one site in particular of a missionary over here whose website is especially intense in this. I only slightly know the person, so I can’t judge. I am concerned that some people I respect have especially deep concerns regarding their actions, as well as their lack of actions. Frankly, I have no clue whether these issues have merit. But one does have to wonder when money shifts from being a necessary part of mission ministry, and when it becomes an obsession.
I will continue this thought in part 2 and get to the reasons I am glad that I am not good at support-raising.
If you wish, you may continue onto PART TWO.