Today I was reading an article by Cameron Burgess who is a speaker/leader in the impact investing realm. It essentially is highlighting the fact that dollars are becoming scarce for non-profits due to giving fatigue and those non-profit (or "for benefit" as he likes to call them) organizations that wish to continue to accomplish their mission and impact their world will need to pivot organizationally. He argues that the "for benefit' world and the for profit world are merging and that the dividing walls we have created through various title and structural differences are unhealthy.
I have argued for a while now that churches are in the non-profit world like other organizations. We are not an entity unto ourselves no matter how special our various theologies may seem to us. The implications of that truth are obvious. We too are suffering from giving fatigue. Many of our churches have focused heavily on missions and "being missional" in the last 10-12 years, but I think many of our congregations would voice some skepticism at how efficiently and effectively we are accomplishing the Kingdom work that we have claimed is our raison d' etre. Is the world noticeably better? Are our local communities?
If you read the article you will see that Burgess feels, as I do, that figuring out how to do for benefit and kingdom work while generating sustainable return is going to be a key part in being able to fund our mission going forward. Further, the mechanics of seeking a return on generously given dollars are not evil and involve the necessity of building certain organizational efficiencies into our processes. In other words, bringing some elements of the for profit world into our for benefit work will necessitate less waste. My view is that all too often freely given charitable dollars are freely spent in ways that do not necessarily accomplish our mission. I know some of you will push back on this idea. I will post on that another day. Suffice it to say, I am not always enamored with this merger, but it IS happening and it IS going to impact the church.
The upshot all of this is that the church is not going to be exempt from these marketplace changes. As I said, we are a part of this non-profit sector too despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise. We also have the distinct disadvantage, when compared with our non-profit neighbors, of having a massive mission in terms of scope. While my local non-profit might be able to focus solely on childhood educational outcomes from 6th-8th grade, my church is in charge of every stage of life, various religious functions, social connection, and its social/kingdom mission just to name a few of its functions. Organizationally that is a pretty massive set of things to "focus" on and it isn't lost on our congregants. Would you rather give to the organization who is solely focused on cancer research (something you care about deeply for personal reasons) or to the organization with a dozen areas of focus? Who do you think will make the most impact dollar for dollar? And yes, I know that the church cannot simply be about mission. It is a bit broader by necessity and should be! I am not throwing Jesus and my theology out with the bath water here. But, we are going to need to change. The church is going to need to find new ways to fund its mission. It's going to need more efficiency and focus. And part of those new ways is going to have to be figuring out how to generate at least SOME sustainable returns while accomplishing its mission.
Below I am going to lay out the 3-4 best quotes of the article with a few comments. My hope is that this kind of stuff gets ecclesial folks brainstorming about how they can better accomplish their kingdom mission in terms of funding, quality, and quantity. I tend to think of this in the realm of youth ministry, as that is where I spend 85% of my time operating, but it applies to the whole church.
1. There has to be a better way:
"The growth of the impact sector — and social enterprise in particular — is occurring for many reasons. The most significant, however, is that entrepreneurial individuals with a passion for change are seeing what many of us see — that institutions, organizations and projects for the common good have failed to resolve many of the most pressing social and environmental issues, despite trillions of dollars being thrown at them.
We believe, quite rightly, that there has to be a better way."
We have told our congregations for the last 10 years that they are called to Kingdom work. That we are not a religious institution but a movement of people that have the privilege of joining God in God's Kingdom work. If we don't get better at that mission on every front and get more focused on it, don't you think our people will stop listening? Hint: They already have. See: "Milennials"
2. Ouch, this sounds like the missional church-
"While living in Boulder, Colorado I would often hear the comment ‘every time a cat dies in Denver, another non-profit is born’. Around the world, well-intentioned individuals, organisations and governments support an estimated $1 trillion (and growing) Impact market. The growth of philanthropy, foreign aid, CSR programs and impact investing, however, appears to have been almost inversely proportional to the level of improvement we’ve seen in global social, environmental and economic systems.
We’re spending more money and things are getting worse.
If I were the CEO of a company that received an annual investment of $1 trillion, spent every cent of that capital, generated virtually no revenue, returned to the market year after year for more investment, and still didn’t achieve the outcomes I committed to, at what point would my competence be called into question? Further, if the Board of Directors had permitted this to go on for decades without resolution, we all know that the shareholders would revolt.
So now we are.
It seems time we questioned whether or not there is a better way to go about improving our social, environmental, economic, political and cultural systems."
My view is that the church is a kind of benevolent hole. There are a lot of dollars in without a whole lot of measurable impact at most churches. We are subsidized by generosity. Shouldn't we get serious about whether we are maximizing our impact?
3. Our dollars and more importantly our impact will start drying up if it isn't already-
"As much as the general public are suffering from cause fatigue, philanthropists increasingly report that they are suffering from donor fatigue. They’ve been giving for quite some time, and are now demanding more rigour, accountability and results from the organisations they support … and rightly so. Governments and grantmakers, likewise, are raising the bar on funding proposals expecting to see more financial sustainability and better-defined metrics, and are pivoting funds towards projects that meet these expectations. Impact organisations that refuse to acknowledge there will be substantially less philanthropic and public funds available in the foreseeable future and fail to adapt their models in light of this will become liabilities standing in the way of progress."
Just how long do we think it is going to take before the female executive in pew #5 comes into church, tired from her week and says somewhere deep inside her subconcious, "Man, my work place does a better job at kingdom work than this church!"? My point is that we should change so funds don't dry up. THEY SHOULD DRY UP! My point is that if we are serious about Kingdom work we have to do it better!
4. It's time to tear down some walls-
"Non-profit’ is no more meaningful than non-homosexual, non-christian or non-woman. It’s nonsensical. Further, a definition that by its nature only includes what we are not, is not a definition at all.
We have, collectively, been defining ourselves in ways that are exclusive, not inclusive and have been building walls rather than bridges as a consequence. While we’re defending our philosophical fiefdoms, the people who most need our help are, quite literally, dying."
The point the author is trying to make here is that too many false dichotomies have been created between the for profit and non profit world. While folks doing impact work are shunning the for profit world, people are dying. Well, if we drop that template onto the American church it's WORSE! We have walled ourselves into our own garrison of uniqueness within the enclave of non profit work. We are an enclave within and enclave. We have created a cloister that would embarrass even the most closed off monastic! We need to see ourselves as part of the larger picture. God is doing Kingdom impact work that is superb and He is doing it beyond our walls! Shouldn't we go out and glean? I think we must.
5. Read the article- If you just read the article and insert the word "church" instead of organization or for benefit enterprise, you will see the implications of what he is describing happening in his sector on your local and regional church bodies. Substitute church leaders for CEO and board. A tidal wave of change is happening and the American church is oblivious right now. We need to get after this, not for the sake of institutional survival, but for the sake of Kingdom work!