DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Follow the Money

Written by: on May 9, 2019

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

About the Author


Sean Dean

An expat of the great state of Maine where the lobster is cheap and the winters are brutal I've settled in as a web developer in Tacoma, Washington. As a foster-adoptive parent of 3 beautiful boys, I have deep questions about the American church's response to the public health crisis that is our foster system.

12 responses to “Follow the Money”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Good write up Sean. I think at the end of the day whom ever people see or identify as making the most impact is where they give there money. As a church in the past we didn’t do a good enough job telling and showing the people where the money was going. Therefore we had people all the time giving us this NGO to work with or that one and then we begin educating our people on what the church was already doing and who we were partnering with and people saw. Maybe one way the tension is resolved is that the NGO is seen as a partner to what the churches vision is and they give into one vision rather to many different ones.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      The pastors I was talking with did make the point that they were really picky as to what organizations to bring in and the most important characteristic was that the organization shared a ministry goal with the church. In that way they became partners rather than just another organization siphoning resources from the church.

      Transparency does seem like another thing to keep at the forefront so congregants know what they’re giving to rather than simply the amorphous concept of “the church”.

  2. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    As always you cause me to think as I read your posts (even when I’d rather not!) I think the “tension” between local churches and non-profits comes down to bias and perspective. That is, is the local church is primary (perhaps a pastor’s perspective) as compared to a more global, amorphous view that local churches are to support meritorious missional enterprises (maybe an NGO’s opinion.) You are right it should not become either/or but rather both/and where each respects the distinctive of the other. God’s provision for his Church through his people is ample, that is we are not competitors for too few customers/dollars. Thanks again for your post!

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      Harry, I love that God’s provision is ample for all involved. Too often we get a little too stuck to our earthly vision of what is available. Remembering that God is able to supply all our needs seems to be a vital concept to hold close.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Sean. As one who receives contacts from NGO’s on a weekly basis wanting access to our churches, I can tell you this is a serious conversation that needs solutions. The growing number of NGO’s is outpacing the church’s ability to fund them. I believe the answer may be outside the church to other streams of income. Interacting with many non-profit leaders at the Q Conference last month in Nashville, I heard some innovative methods many are looking to. As giving patterns change in the church they too will be looking to their new methods or new methods of doing church in general. And, speaking of another blog post…

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      Tammy, I agree there needs to be another way of funding NGOs. In tech there is a whole world of venture capitalists just wanting to invest in the next big idea. I’d love to see someone come up with a way for venture capitalists to invest in NGOs in order to see the world become a better place. There would be some tricky ground to cover there, but it needs to happen, because our churches can’t fund all of these organizations by themselves.

  4. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you, Sean, for touching on the realities of life through the NGOs and the need for asking funds from churches. They are capitalizing on the tax relief mechanism but not understanding how they drain the members who have more outlet to give to. You made me laugh when you end by saying you hope to get a job from the NGO after your degree. End up doing the same thing you are concerned about. Life is a circle. But did you know many of the NGOs direct their funds to the developing countries doing something on humanity? But what amazes me is that as much as these NGOs are raising funds, issues never end but as population increases, the more challenges increases too. But as you say engaging the members and the NGO on how all is done. This could be a subject for discussion further.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      John, it’s kind of a cruel irony that the very system I’m concerned with is the one I will likely end up being part of. That being said, the fact that I am thinking about it already could be a means to finding a better solution when I get there. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thought provoking post! The church I serve has had to reconsider some of the NGO’s we partner with because the financial expectation was so high. Over time priorities shifted and we had to make a change.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      That is one of the realities of a church, it’s an organism that undergoes the same evolutionary processes of all other organisms. Being able to grasp the realities of that change is necessary to keep things running and sometimes that means re-evaluating who you’re partnering with. I’m glad your congregation was able to see that and make positive changes.

  6. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Sean. You seem to be using NGO and parachurch interchangeably; am I getting that right? I’m curious if these conversations were with pastors of bigger churches or small churches? I ask because when I worked for a big church there was a lot of ‘guarding’ funds and only partnering with ‘strategic’ organizations. In the small church contexts we simply followed the relationships and supported things people in the church were connected with. In the regional city in Australia we lived in, the dynamic was different again. The parachurch organizations were few, large and highly respected and supported. People/churches weren’t just asked for money, they were invited into key moments of the ministry. They functioned more as unifying catalysts the monetary leeches. In turn, they were also quite ready and willing to help out local congregations when asked and as it fit within their ministry. It was truly a symbiotic relationship. I wonder if the entrepreneurial spirit leads to too many of these organizations because people want their own unique stamp on things rather than merging or joining existing organizations? You acknowledge pastor’s careful selection of partner organizations. There is certainly discernment needed, but how does this affect our understanding of ourselves as ‘one body’?

  7. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Yeah, it’s all a bit of a dog’s breakfast when it comes to funding NCO’s (non-church organisations) and it’s getting worse. We (various leadership groups) tackled it head-on, which was really addressing consumer Christianity. We got the church to work out what it supported externally and also what was required to do the direct ministry of the church. We then told people that the church community decided as a community and that being part of the community meant choosing to engage with the mission of the community, internally and externally. The money I gave to the church wasn’t decreased because it wasn’t quite the way I liked it, but rather I gave because this is where I believe God has me, and it’s also where I live. We freed people to leave to fully support another congregation they could give to. Ironically, no one has ever left for that reason alone. What’s more interesting is the growing number of Christians who believe that the NCO they support is kind of their church. Interesting considering Jason’s article on the subject.

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