My new favorite person is Vu Le but more about that later.
First, I want you to help me figure this out:
- An urban neighborhood riddled with violence and unemployment needs a church to offer a haven of healing and good news.
- A church is created, led by a missional pastor who gets out into the neighborhood and discerns the needs of the neighbors.
- The church is packed every Sunday, mostly with unemployed people.
- They are busy weekdays too with tutoring programs and computer training for neighborhood students.
- The church is “successful” in every way but financial sustainability.
What’s a church to do when the members do not have the personal financial resources to fund the ministry?
Congregations are faith-based non-profits. We cannot apply for government grants. We can charge rent in our buildings for outside groups, but we don’t want to be in the real estate business. We can hold fundraisers and sometimes those fundraisers create community and bolster relationships, but our tax free status might be at risk if we raise too much money through “moneymaking” ventures.
One of the reasons for denominations to exist is that we can do more as a community of churches than we can do as a single congregation. What if four to six wealthy churches pooled their money to wholly fund a church that cannot fund themselves? In essence, those wealthy churches become the funders and donors and those poor churches become the grant recipients, in non-profit parlance.
And now we have power issues. Or at least they are more obvious than they were before.
Back to Vu Le. He makes so many excellent points in his non-profit blog. Please subscribe to his blog if you are 1) part of a wealthy church that funds unsustainable ministries or 2) part of a ministry-rich but financially-poor church that depends on the generosity of people not directly part of your congregation. He shares the fact that his job often revolves around “frankensteining bits of funding together.”
Increasingly, this is going to be an issue for all our spiritual communities:
- How will congregations comprised of unemployed or underemployed members be able to afford a pastor, much less a church with programs to feed them both physically and spiritually?
- How do we convince Funder (i.e. Wealthy) Congregations to realize that their donations will be needed forever? It’s not like First Presbyterian Church of Poorest Neighborhood in Town will ever be able to overcome their deeply rooted poverty. Imagine that three young people from the congregation go to college, become surgeons, return to the neighborhood, and tithe their income. The ministry would still struggle financially.
- The more successful a ministry becomes, the more expensive it becomes. When a ministry takes off, more money is needed for additional utilities, more staffing is needed to serve the program, more insurance is needed to protect the institution, more supplies are needed to support the activities.
Answers anyone? Is it true that “sustainable non-profit” = sparkly unicorns?
Image is of one famous Frankenstein creator. And thanks to SB for introducing me to Vu Le’s blog.