Funding models for all mission work in transition
Now that cities, schools, businesses and neighbourhoods throughout North America are home to dozens of ethnicities and religious affiliations, does this change Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations”?
Not at all. But it has changed the definition of “missionary” and how churches think about – and fund – evangelism. In our diaspora cultures, boundaries between overseas and domestic mission work have blurred or disappeared. That sea change led to the Christian Reformed Church’s merger last July of its Home and World Mission agencies into Resonate Global Mission. How individual Christians give to mission workers is changing, too.
Unification proved understandably difficult, as each parent agency of Resonate carried more than 100 years of different histories and practices. World Missions had historically been centrally organized from the Grand Rapids, Michigan domestic office. Missionaries were assigned to overseas posts with input from various fields, but with mandates and decisions made via largely corporate hierarchical lines. For most of its life, overseas missionaries and home offices were entirely supported by denominational ministry shares and designated offerings or pledges from sponsoring churches. Now they must raise 90 percent of their full support, with assistance from church relations and advancement staff members of Resonate.
Until about two decades ago, Home Missions directly employed church planters and campus pastors. Gradually, however, annual grants shrunk and support needed to come instead from each individual Classis. Similarly, campus pastors once worked at arms-length from local congregations and classes. Over the years, more and more Classes have taken ever-greater responsibility for local university and college ministries. Chaplains are now often employees or supported by classical ministry shares and governed by standing committees of the regional Classes. They are generally not required to do as much personal fundraising, though some regularly preach in churches of the respective Classis.
Although most campus ministries in Canada still receive 10 percent funding from Resonate, at least one chaplain’s ministry is funded entirely by a classis – “an anomalous situation [I have repeatedly asked to] be corrected. In Canada there has always been a close relationship between the classis and its campus ministry.” In the U.S. there are different models, with some Classes offering differing amounts of financial support.
The compelling reason for the changing funding for various missions is that, over decades, Christian Reformed denominational ministry shares have steadily decreased to half or less than what agencies had budgeted for and received. While church members are still generous in wishing to support missions domestically and overseas, domestic office leaders and synods find themselves in a very difficult spot. In today’s personality-driven culture, donors give far less readily to agencies and institutions. Congregations and their members prefer to target their giving to people and places with whom they have personal connections or relationships.
To accommodate this unstoppable current, World Missions in particular had been gradually changing its funding model. When domestic and overseas staff could no longer depend on ministry shares, Advancement or Development officers were hired. They helped missionaries organize geographic clusters of supporting churches. Home office staff also introduced missionary candidates to dozens of individual donors. The missionaries would raise support by visiting them during home service, developing personal relationships and maintaining regular correspondence. Thus overseas missionaries have been required to raise ever-larger percentages of their needed support for their given field. After several incremental increases over the past years, new missionaries must now raise in pledges 90 percent of their needed funds before moving. Missionaries employed before fundraising became part of the job description are being eased up to the 90 percent level, a process to be complete by 2020.
Home Missions funding models were also evolving long before the merger. Many campus ministers are employees of a given Classis. Although they receive classis funds for salary, allowances and programs, not all are required to raise their entire budgets. Most are required to promote their campus ministries by preaching and speaking at congregational meetings.
Yet today many churches are employing more staff than ever before, which results in fewer opportunities for campus ministers to preach. Some chaplains see individual congregational support declining, perhaps as a result of reduced presence in the churches.
For example, local congregations might participate in campus ministry by providing meals for student suppers or Bible study groups. One campus chaplain reports that, “It has become more difficult to find churches willing to support those suppers, which we hold only six times a year.” That does suggest an alarming lack of interest in the ministry itself, though financial support has been generous.
Faced with shrinking grants from home office, some entrepreneurial church planters have embarked on a model as least as old as St. Paul’s, Aquila’s and Priscilla’s – tentmaking. Today’s “tentmakers” work in such varied fields as real estate, music and retail, or community work such as coaching high school football. Without making customers or students into targets, these missionaries’ lives are an organic public witness, offering opportunities for Bible studies only after relationships are securely founded on trust and friendship.
Among overseas missionaries, reactions to the new funding requirements have been strong. Many older missionaries who enjoyed full support for all their careers complained angrily at first. They said that communication with supporting churches has become more difficult because they feel dependent on them in new and unpleasant ways.
Two veteran missionaries with nearly 75 years combined overseas service threatened for some time to appeal to the CRC’s Judicial Code for redress and “justice.” Their reasons were understandable, if not completely valid: “We are the only employees of the CRC who have to raise their own support. What’s more, we’re not only raising our own support, we’re also contributing to home office budgets.”
Sympathetic to such complaints, it was fitting when several former overseas missionaries, now working domestically, insisted that they continue to be identified as missionaries. By maintaining their own support networks of churches and individual donors, they’ve raised a third of their own salaries and expenses.
For their part, the two angry missionaries later decided not to make any case to the Judicial Code Committee. What dissuaded both of them was the experience of mandatory fund-raising during several months of home service: it went better than expected. First, both received a great deal of logistical help in travel schedules. Second, they raised more support than either had believed possible. While fundraising is by no means one of their favourite activities, they were grateful to domestic staff for organizing their schedules. Of home office personnel, another missionary said, “I don’t know what I would have done without them; I had no idea where to start.”
Missionaries hired since the new policies were in place have never known another system. Although they experience no small amount of anxiety as they begin to meet donors and churches, most new missionaries have been able to raise the 90 percent in six to nine months before leaving for overseas. During that time they are part-time employees of the mission and also receive training and orientation in cross-cultural ministry; some are even able to begin language training. One long-time pastor and spouse astounded themselves and domestic staff by reaching the 90 percent plateau in three months through generosity from lifelong friends and former congregations.
Trying to ease the burden
Yet raising funds can be burdensome and worrisome, even if missionaries have the help they need. One missionary on a recent home service was trying to visit 21 supporting congregations and 70 individual donors in six months. His trips for that purpose took him from Texas to Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and to the U.S. west coast. Midway through home service he said, “I’m always exhausted from the travelling and preaching and can’t wait to get back home overseas where the pace is slower.”
For their part, home office staff are fully aware of the burdens that fundraising puts on overseas staff. As well, they recognize the disparity between domestic church planters and campus ministers who do not have to meet that 90 percent benchmark because they receive most of their support from Resonate or Classis. As one leader in the new mission agency told CC, “We know that remains a sore point and are not happy about it. So we are beginning to explore new and creative ways of fundraising in order to address the issue justly.”
For the time being, the disparity continues. The two separate cultures and modus operandi of the former World Missions and Home Missions are not unlike two large rivers that merge into one. For miles downstream the different-coloured waters run alongside each other, until gradually the tones mix and the river is larger, deeper and flowing still faster. For now, visionary mission leaders and on-field staff in the newly unified Resonate Global Mission will pray and work together, trusting God to guide their progress in his usually mysterious, inscrutable ways.