Seldom do I meet a pastor who, when they find out I’m in fundraising, asks about raising money. Ironically, most seminaries don’t teach this elemental aspect of ministry—congregations are nonprofits; contributions are elemental to their growth. However, before congregations and pastors can start sending out requests for more funding, there’s a need to shift the way we view the church.
Many divinity or seminary graduates often pursue other opportunities other than the pastorate. Of the many reasons, a chief reason is the role played by the pastor. Pastors have become managers, overseeing programs and growth, maintaining the congregational status quo—and, in some cases, the societal status quo. If we’re going to shift the way we view the church, we’ve got to change the way we see the pastor.
But first, a statistical interlude.
In 2013, the latest year for statistics on giving, overall giving increased 4.4% according to Giving USA. That statistic, however, might mislead some congregations. The same report details a continued decrease in giving to congregations. Simply put, congregants are giving less money to their churches, and more to specific, religiously-identified nonprofits.
Looking deeper still, Connected to Give: Faith Communities finds that of the 63% of Americans who give, 73% of those gifts support organizations with religious ties–either congregations or a religiously identified nonprofit. However, only 41% of those gifts support congregations. The remainder, 32%, support religiously identified nonprofits.
What do these numbers mean for congregations?
A fairly new, yet growing idea, is that of a social entrepreneur. Social entrepreneurship isn’t something “new,” but as a professional calling it has captured the imagination of many. Among those drawn toward this term? Millennials. Social entrepreneurs want to innovate solutions for social problems. The revenue they generate, isn’t given to shareholders. Revenue generated funds their efforts to create and sustain social value.
The Skoll World Forum defines social entrepreneurs as “society’s change agents, creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world.” Isn’t that the Church’s mission? How many pastors can say they’re empowered to be “change agents?” How many pastors view their vocation as transforming the world? Judging by how many divinity or seminary graduates pursue positions outside the congregation, I would say few pastors would call themselves “social entrepreneurs.”
Yet, isn’t this the kingdom of God? Has the church lost its ability to create a vision that reflects an institution as a hub of social innovation? Those who choose ‘non-traditional’ ministry careers choose them for the same reasons donors increase their donations to those organizations: the vision and identity held by the institutional church lacks the ability to innovate beyond the church calendar.
Research demonstrates that a plurality of giving supports congregations, yet that support continues to decrease. We need to reimagine the pastorate, and thereby reimagine the congregation. Is the church simply a place for worship? Or, is it also a hub of social innovation that seeks to innovate solutions for social problems? Will the church view itself as an economic driver within their communities? Congregations have the potential to innovate and transform their communities — and grow in the process.
Admittedly, there’s more to the process than these few words. We need to start the conversation somewhere; that’s how innovation begins—within an idea. So, what’s your idea? What does your congregation have that can provide fresh streams of revenue? Maybe it’s the education building that was built in the 1950s, but now it doesn’t reach capacity on the one day of the week it’s used. What can that space do? What resources does your congregation have that can inspire transformation for your community and communicate the goodness of God? Innovation needs hope to succeed and grace when it fails—where else better for innovation than the church?