Funding the Local Church: Liabilities of Fund Raising

As I awaited my opportunity to present church development at the church board meeting, the church treasurer presented the financial report. “Since announcing our building fund, we have accumulated $30,000 through designated giving—not nearly enough to launch our building program. However, our giving in the general fund and missions accounts is way down.”

I have often heard similar comments in churches that have established a building fund, invited the people to contribute offerings to the fund, or engaged in fund raising for expansion. In many instances, giving has been designated to the building fund which previously had been directed to the general fund or missions.

This practice may have minimal risks in a committed congregation of assimilated members who accept ownership of ministry and giving responsibilities. But there are many liabilities that must be considered in most churches characterized as 80/20 churches—80 percent of the giving and serving from 20 percent of the people (a national average in evangelical churches). What are the liabilities of fund raising to be avoided?

  • The appeal is primarily to the existing contributors. The self-effort of the church leaders usually appeals to the committed. The engaged fund raiser may raise more money because of his experience, but he still appeals primarily to existing contributors. Aggressive marketing strategies by the fund raiser will be resisted by most church constituents.
  • New people are not assimilated through fund raising. Ownership of responsibility to give depends more on attitude than on ability. The appeal must be preceded by commitment. Fund raising assumes a sufficient commitment level to achieve the goal through promotion and direct challenge.
  • There is high risk of offending those who do not have the “grace of giving” (2 Corinthians 8:1–7). The believer who also has this grace desires the opportunities to give as a demonstration of his love for Christ “the indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15) for our salvation. But the believer devoid of this grace may respond, “All they want is my money!”
  • The appeal in fund raising is usually need-oriented instead of obedience- and love-motivated. Historically, most churches have increased the budget in hopes of stretching the giving. Or another designated fund was established in hopes that multiple opportunities would mean multiplied giving. This may work with the committed givers but the uncommitted are not inspired by needs since their own selves and personal wants and desires leave them with already unfulfilled needs.
  • Fund raising provides minimal development of tithing obedience as the beginning of the believer’s giving. The tithe principle of giving to Christ through the local church the firstfruits (10%) of gross wages as an act of believer/priest worship (1 Corinthians 16:2) is an act that 
    (1) Acknowledges God’s ownership of all, including yourself, 
    (2) Commits life’s needs, wants, and desires to biblical obedience, and 
    (3) Trusts God to provide as He promised when He has first place. These stewards want to give sacrificial offerings beyond the tithe to demonstrate 
    (4) Love for Christ. Fund raising usually assumes this stewardship principle.
  • There is no plan included in mere fund raising for development of general and missions budgets through systematic tithing. The common approach is to present the building plans and project budget. Based on past experiences in the church, it is expected that the people will respond again to the need. In most churches today, the number of respondents is decreasing, especially among the younger “me first” generations.
  • You could rob the general fund and missions budgets. When great energy and promotion are thrust upon the special funding campaign, regular giving is often neglected. How often have I heard treasurers of churches and Bible colleges say, “I’m struggling to pay the bills.” Instead of enlarged giving, promotion alone encourages redesignated giving.
  • Fund raising may make it necessary to repeat the pledge drive every two or three years. If the growing church depends on fund raising to maintain or increase the funds for amortization of borrowed funds, it is difficult to get off the treadmill. The alternatives are to quit growing so you can stop building and be debt free to coast after the loan is paid off, or you can develop systematic giving so that capital development can be a part of the regular budget to facilitate church growth or church planting on a cash and limited borrowing basis.
  • Biblical instruction is usually minimal in fund raising. The substitute for internal Holy Spirit motivation of the believer pursuing holiness is marketing strategies and salesmanship to raise money. Participatory Bible teaching is needed for change. Most conservative pastors resist explicit preaching or teaching on giving, fearing categorization as a televangelist or money-hungry preacher. But the typical fund raiser usually uses tactics other than Bible instruction. Don’t expect him to care for the pastor’s Bible teaching responsibility.
  • Signing a pledge is rejected by many. I have heard from some who fear that being unable to fulfill a pledge could bring God’s judgment as with the unfulfilled vow in the Old Testament—a questioned interpretation. Furthermore, there is strong objection to the practice of some churches who notify the people who are lagging behind in their pledge.
  • Extended pledge giving (usually for three years) may overlook those challenged by an initial large sacrificial offering. The potential contributor with wealth or substantial cash reserves is seldom challenged by a monthly budgeted amount over an extended time. Instead, he is challenged by the appeal for a large single gift, hopefully with view to sacrifice (giving up something the heart was set on for what is now perceived as a higher purpose).
  • Capacity for borrowing is often the apparent goal in fund raising, with qualification based on individual pledges rather than on tithe based corporate treasury capacity for borrowing demonstrated in the budget. This creates greater liability for the church if individual designations for the loan payments decrease. But when undesignated tithing precedes offerings, borrowing is minimized, special funding appeals are minimized, and the church qualifies to borrow on the basis of budgeted cash flow including capital development. Then sacrificial offerings for the project from stewards practicing the grace of giving are generous, contributing to personal and corporate spiritual growth, to evangelism, and to enlarged missionary enterprise.

Stewardship development should precede fund raising. Obedience-oriented and love-motivated giving always exceeds need-oriented appeals. Don’t avoid the issue of giving; the Bible doesn’t! Challenge your people to obey, surrender self, sacrifice, love Christ, and give to Christ from the heart. Then it will never hurt!