I had an interesting discussion last month with several pastors. We were discussing the way churches and parachurch ministries interact with each other. Several of the pastors mentioned that there is an unspoken tension or competition when a non-profit comes into the church and needs funding. Most people only have so much money to use for charity and when an NGO comes into the church to start doing ministry and asks for financial help it can cause a strain on the church – especially if the church is already struggling to make ends meet.
During our conversation there were several suggestions on how to cause less tension in these relationships, but the one that stuck with me was the idea that when a ministry starts doing work with a church they do not do any fundraising for the first year with the church. The bias of the pastors making this suggestion needs to be read into this, since I am fairly sure a non-profit would not offer up that as a solution. Aside from the implicit bias of the suggestion, I wonder what it is about the congregations that make the need for a suggestion such as this to exist.
Diane Zemke’s book Being Smart About Congregational Change is a handbook for change agents within a congregation to understand how change happens and the conditions to keep in mind. A former technical writer, Zemke has made a very well constructed how-to manual. The depth of understanding on many topics within the book displays the experience of her work with the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) as a congregational consultant.
Zemke writes, “A congregation’s spirituality is affected by how the majority of the members relate to reality.”1 It has been said that you can tell what a person cares about by where they spend their money. I wonder if a person’s spirituality is similar in that where they choose to invest spiritually and/or financially is what they actually care about. Which leads me to another thought about this idea that NGOs could drain dollars from a church – why are the members of the congregation not sold enough on the ministry of the church that they limit what they give to the church for this NGO. That is to say, if a congregant believes in the ministry of the church why would they take away from supporting the ministry of the church to support another ministry? Are the pastors not doing the right things to keep people giving to their churches?
Clearly, I have drawn a hard line that is not at all based in reality. If church – or charity in general – were a business then that line would make sense, but it is not business and as ministers we are not selling anything – or at least we should not be, but that is another blog post. Still there needs to be a way to get over this tension and I think it has to do with creating a well balanced congregation. Corinne Ware’s explanation of church spirituality I think is a good place to start.2 In a well balanced congregation there will be those who split their giving between the church and an NGO or two, but there will also be those who believe in the ministry of the church and want to see it succeed and continue to give faithfully to the church, there will also be some that give entirely to the NGO or to no-one at all. Nonetheless, it is this balance that needs to be worked out. Lastly, I wonder what it would take to help pastors understand or believe that they have a balanced congregation. Perhaps the anxiety felt is more in their heads than in reality.
I find this discussion fascinating since there is a decent chance that after this degree is done I will end up starting or working for a non-profit organization that needs to interact with churches. Concessions need to be made on both sides and I do not think that the pastors suggestion above is so bad. If there is a way to have the work between non-profits and churches be less tense then it is worth the work.
1. Diane Zemke, Being SMART about Congregational Change, (Create Space Independent Publishing 2014), Chapter 3 Kindle.
2. ibid, Chapter 3 Kindle