Delegates to Synod 2013 were surprised and concerned when they heard that missionaries sent by Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) would soon have to raise 90 percent of their basic costs outside of ministry shares. Some wondered why ministry shares (the amounts given by churches to support denominational ministries) were no longer covering the cost of sending missionaries.
The Banner asked Lois Craven, director of advancement operations for CRWM, to help explain the change. We also asked career missionaries how they feel about the change in the funding model.
Giving Has Changed
“A lot of people are asking about ‘the move to 90 percent,’” she said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that. [Many people] never knew that ministry shares did not cover the cost of CRCNA missions effort through CRWM.”
Craven said that the way Christian Reformed churches give to ministry has changed. “Giving has increasingly moved from . . . allowing funds to be used as needed to donor-designated giving—donors giving in such a way that they know where and how their gifts will be used,” she said.
Craven also noted that undesignated giving is down. Today ministry share giving for CRWM (approximately $5 million) covers only 33.4 percent of its budget. (See graph A.)
CRWM sends approximately 55 career and associate missionaries, using about 49 percent of its $15 million annual budget. The remaining money is spent on missionaries with partner organizations (9 percent), programs (25 percent), and fundraising and administration (16.3 percent). (See graph B.)
Craven stressed that CRWM is not asking its missionaries to become fundraisers. “We do not expect missionaries to raise any funds. It is the work of God through the Holy Spirit who moves his people to support ministry. We are asking missionaries to clearly present their needs.” By 2020 CRWM hopes that all missionaries will have 90 percent of the costs of their individualized budgets come from designated giving. (See sidebar.) New missionaries must have that 90 percent in place before leaving for the field.
In material sent to missionaries, CRWM noted that if missionaries do not meet the goal, it may be necessary to increase the length of their next home service to “provide more time for them to build relationships.”
Missionaries Feel Pressure to Raise Funds
Some longtime career missionaries remain unconvinced that they are not being turned into fundraisers.
Howard and Ruth Van Dam have worked in Haiti for many years. “When Ruth and I were first sent to Haiti, we felt that we had the backing of the denomination,” Howard said. “Now, with this new policy, it’s not the church that is sending out missionaries but only confirming those who are successful in raising the required financial support. The burden of support-raising for the missionary position rests more on the shoulders of the missionary and not on the CRCNA as a body.”
Another missionary put it this way: “One of the greatest encouragements and supports from CRWM has been the fact that we have not been pressured to raise funds. That encouragement has just disappeared.”
Van Dam also said that as missionaries need to be attentive to their own personal fundraising, there will be an inherent tension between that and raising awareness of the field’s financial needs. “This may lead to a conflict of interest that will put missionaries in a very difficult situation,” he said. “More time will be spent developing our North American financial support base and less time for responsibilities on the mission field. This doesn’t sound like good stewardship to me. Besides being a full-time missionary, I also have to become a part-time fundraiser.”
Another career missionary couple, who did not want to be named, sees the new funding model as a wholesale change, and they are very unhappy about it. “We think this is geographic discrimination,” they wrote. “CRWM overseas missionaries are the only denominational employees that are being required to raise their own support. CRWM office staff in North America don’t have to do this.”
This missionary also wonders why the CRWM annual budget of $15 million dollars is not enough to send out more than its current 55 career missionaries.
He also agreed with Van Dam that this will distract from primary mission work. “Already we do regular deputation visits to CRC churches and supporters. Our home service period will be focused on raising more dollars instead of rest and church visits. The new system will add stress to missionary work.”
Van Dam concluded, “I believe we could, as a denomination and as a mission agency, stand against our culture’s individualistic tendencies. We could reaffirm that we are a mission-minded church that sees its reason for existence as found in Matthew 28, the Great Commission. We could once again dedicate ourselves to working together and supporting one another. We are a much stronger body when we pool our resources and talents together.”