It seems like the perfect business model. Start with products that are donated or deeply discounted. Add volunteer labor and a worthwhile cause. Plug in a community of willing buyers. Reap a handsome profit that any retailer would envy.
It also seems like the perfect fit. Picture a not-for-profit church groaning under financial obligations. It has
no predictable cash-flow—only freewill offerings. There is a stubborn deficit that doesn’t seem to budge. Match this legitimate need with that time-tested solution, and
voila! Problem solved? That depends on what the problem really is.
Every church has needs: overhead, maintenance, salaries, benefits, outreach goals, building projects, and so forth. In a fallen world, the needs will always outpace the revenue, because there is always more that a church could do. But the church’s biggest need is not, and never will be, financial.
One day, Jesus watched people deposit their offerings at the Temple (Mark 12:41-44). If money were a fundamental issue for the church, you’d have to wonder why He did what He did. When “. . . many who were rich put in much,” Jesus remained silent. No words of commendation, no pats on the back, no public recognition of their sizable donations.
Then, “. . . one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.” It was hardly a mortgage lifter or a checkbook balancer, but to Jesus, it was greater than all the other contributions that day. What mattered to the Church’s Head was not the size of the gift—not the money—but the heart from which it came. The rich gave some from their abundance. The widow gave all from her poverty.
Normally, when someone says, “It’s not about the money,” they really mean, “This is about the money, but I don’t want you to think that it is.” That’s not the case here. In the church, it really isn’t about the money; it really is about the heart (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). As the account of the Widow’s Mite shows, we can’t always tell whether gifts are small or large, because they can’t always be measured in dollars and cents.
Christian giving is not about raising money—least of all from non-members. God has plenty of money. He could accomplish His purposes without spending a single dime or using any of us. Instead, He invites us to partner in His work, so that each member, no matter how much money he has, can be involved in the incredible task of saving souls eternally.
And what of the financial challenges that every congregation faces? These are about more than money, too. They are about goals, trust, foresight, faith. They are opportunities for faith to be shifted from Park into Drive; to honor God here and now, before He takes us to heaven forever.
Obviously, not every cause is kingdom work, and not every group has the Gospel. When it is the Gospel’s business, though, then the need is not to raise funds, but to raise faith. Through the message of Jesus Christ—crucified, risen, and highly exalted—the greatest Gift this world has, and will ever receive, the Spirit does just that. Faith grows and responds. God gathers the gifts of faith and multiplies them for His purposes.
If you’d like to measure the wisdom of using a fundraiser against the principles of Scripture, speak with your pastor.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.