When church giving declines, mission committees are forced to make some difficult decisions. If the mission budget must be trimmed, how do you decide which missionaries to cut?
This article describes how a church can trim their budget while significantly increasing their mission work and impact. Moreover, the traditional Western missionary sending model is not keeping pace with the global population growth. There are about 2 billion people who have not had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. A simple formula for turning this situation around is:
- Support local (national) church workers who train local church planters.
- Three capable local people can serve in full-time missions at $6,000 per year.
- Verify their results through occasional random inspections of their work
- Focus on countries that have the greatest needs in terms of church planting.
Read on to learn more about how to not just reduce your church mission budget, but greatly increase the impact you can make with that budget.
It’s Crunch Time
Churches are not immune to the dilemma of reprioritizing how they spend their resources when hit by a financial crisis. Typically, the senior pastor or executive pastor will ask each department to provide a downsized budget. This decision tears at the fabric of a church. Department heads struggle to keep their budgets intact because they feel their work is mission-critical to advance the Kingdom. This spiritual stress test can divide leadership and staff in ways never imagined. However, there can be a silver lining when churches are forced to prune their mission budget. This article is about how to prune a missions budget and increase mission impact.
Relational Models or Impact Centric Models
Most churches today make their mission funding decisions based almost exclusively on personal relationships. At the top of this relational pyramid are missionaries from the funding church. Most churches believe their highest level of success is supporting one of their own missionaries. This legacy value proposition outweighs all other kinds of missional impact considerations. Of secondary importance to most mission committees are questions like:
- Where will the missionary work and why?
- What will they be doing and why?
- How will they do it, and what’s the intended Impact of their work?
- How will their impact be measured?
This sacrosanct relationship criterion makes cutting the mission’s budget more than just painful, it’s nearly sacrilegious. Deliberating about which missionary to cut becomes an exercise in appraising the highest and best relationships. If one of the missionaries supported by the church is the senior pastor’s son, he would be at the top of the relational pyramid. Relational proximity to the church also means prioritizing all American missionaries over national or indigenous missionaries. This single criterion that trumps all others has outlasted its usefulness.
A Parochial Worldview of Global Missions
Many Americans are surprised to learn that most Christians no longer live in the USA. They live in what was yesterday’s mission field. Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans are the precious harvest from generations of missionaries before us. After 2,000 years of Great Commission missionary work, culminating with two hundred years of modern Western mission expansion, traditional missionary receiving countries now have significantly large Christian populations. Many missionaries gave their lives to see this indigenous harvest, and we don’t honor their sacrifices when we don’t help to sustain indigenous missions growth.
Today, American churches must begin to see their respective budgets in a global context or from a koinonia perspective. The United States is home to more than 340,000 churches. American churchgoers are the wealthiest with an annual income of over $5.2 trillion.
Koinonia (spiritual community) budgeting reorients us to see our churches as part of the greater global community of churches. In his letter to the Philippian Church, the Apostle Paul encourages them to adopt a Koinonia worldview. Writing for Mission Frontiers, Dr. Kevin Higgins says Philippians chapter 4:15 speaks of a sharing koinonia community in giving and receiving. It is mutuality. Sincere healthy interdependency is marked by this quality.
Koinonia budgeting is stewardship with a global perspective versus a siloed perspective. It embraces a Body of Christ orientation versus an individualistic church operating alone.
The Lausanne Committee has adopted the term polycentric to convey and usher in a new era of global collaboration with our indigenous brethren. Reserving and allocating the American church’s wealth for its own missionaries (almost exclusively) is out of sync with the spirit of global church koinonia.
American church wealth shows that a lack of funds is not an obstacle for sharing the Good News with the world. What is critical now is how those funds are used for global missions.
On Reallocating Missions Giving
- It cost $163 billion per year for foreign missionaries (primarily Western) to work in foreign Christian lands. According to the International Missions Board (IMB), it costs $60,000 to send one missionary overseas per year and $120,000 per year for a couple.
- Most foreign missionaries work in countries that have large Christian populations.
Why is this so? Because as noted earlier, churches believe sending one of their own is their primary mark of success, even over specific outcomes and impact. We measure what matters most, so many churches in the west proudly boast about how many missionaries they support and say little on how much verifiable impact the produce.
Imagine hearing your missions pastor report how they had spent $300,000 dollars of your tithe on your church’s missionaries to work in other largely Christian countries for another year. Does that statement arouse any curiosity about the wisdom of using mission funds that way? Or how would you react hearing the pastor say,
“We had to cut the mission’s budget by half to $150,000. So we decided to diversify our missionary team by releasing some of our own missionaries to include local indigenous missionaries. The good news is the indigenous workers planted 200 new churches with your funds. And they baptized 700 new believers among a remote unreached group of people. Additionally, Self-sustainability training initiatives are underway at all these locations so that the emerging church will not be dependent on outside funding alone.”
Pruning for Greater Impact
If your church is downsizing its mission’s budget, don’t panic about how to proceed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but this is a perfect time to begin increasing Gospel impact globally. Two fundamental principles must be embraced:
- Polycentric Missions must replace the American-centric model of sending our own.
- Koinonia budgeting can significantly increase your mission impact with fewer funds by seeking out cost-effective alternatives, such as supporting nationals.
Doing this requires a worldview change for a missions committee. The change focuses more on how to produce the best outcomes with greater impact of your giving dollars. Changing a mission committee’s worldview isn’t easy. But during a time of a budget crisis, this can happen faster than usual.
Some Action Steps
- Start by adding up the financial support that has gone to missions over the last 5 years.
- Then determine what the outcomes were? You’ll need to review missionary correspondence over that time frame to find out what they accomplished. You could ask the missionaries to send a report on what they have accomplished over the last five years.
- Then do an impact analysis. That is, how much impact was produced by five years of church funding? Would you be willing to stand before the congregation to report your findings? You might discover how some of your missionaries are very good at starting new and exciting initiatives, but they don’t finish the last one before starting another new one. They may report how many new churches were started, but there is no information on how those churches have been producing other new churches and believers. And qualitative impact reports like church attrition will likely be missing.
- Pruning the missionary Team. Step 2 will help the church know which missionaries they should release. Supporting underperforming missionaries is simply not good stewardship. With a new understanding about impact versus relationships, pruning is no longer subjective or personal (favoritism); it’s mission-critical and objective. At this juncture, objective evaluations will determine who will continue to receive church support. An impact centric worldview is critical to this step.
- Next, rebalance the missions portfolio by allocating 50% of the budget to supporting indigenous missionaries. For every American missionary, the church commits to supporting an indigenous missionary. Even reducing one American missionary adds $60,000 to the budget. That is enough to support many indigenous workers.
National or indigenous missionaries require far less funding to bring the Good News. In truth, with this Impact model, you might end up supporting many more missionaries than when you started because the cost difference is so significant. One mission agency said it cost them $10,000 per month to support one American family, whereas one indigenous worker costs $500 per month. The math is simple.
- Practice polycentric Missions. That means, seek indigenous missionaries and mission agencies to collaborate with. It’s not that hard. Ask Siri or Google. It goes something like this:
Q: How many distinct people groups are there in x country?
Q: How many Christians live in x country?
Q: How many languages are spoken in x country?
Q: How many churches does x country have?
Q: Are there any languages in x country that have the Jesus Film?
Q: Are there any languages in x country that have a Bible translation?
Q: What Christian mission organizations are working in x country?
Anyone of these sample queries will produce search results. If a lot of results appear, then the country already has a significant Christian presence and probably doesn’t need any help from Western missionaries. However, if no results appear, then you have most likely landed on a big gospel gap. Now your search focuses on finding organizations that are working in the gospel gap region. They could be a good partner in helping establish the Gospel.
Lastly, if you want a map showing the largest unreached populations and their geographical locations, become familiar with the 31 Frontiers Peoples Booklet found at http://joshuaproject.net. It’s a prayer guide of population clusters of 5 million people and more who don’t know the name of Jesus. These 31 Frontiers Peoples represent the largest known Gospel Gaps on the planet.
For those churches who want to begin supporting nationals sooner, consider the following nationally led mission agencies in India where only 3% of the population is Christian.
You can contact any one of these nationally led organizations to investigate a possible partnership.
The Timothy Initiative: ttionline.org
Mission India: missionindia.org
Multiplying Seeds: Multiplicationnetwork.org
Operation Agape: FriendsofAgape.org
About the Authors
Steve Roa is a Moving Missions Strategy Researcher.