World Missions Explains the 90 Percent, Missionaries Not Convinced

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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.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (5)


De-centralization can be a good thing. However, one has to wonder why denominational leaders defend agencies like the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, which often takes controversial public policy positions while not viewing Missions, something our Lord specifically charged to His church as a priority? I would suggest that our missions organizations: CRWM, CRHM, Back to God, World Renew are proper functions of the institutional church. Before any of them are cut, I'd hope that the OSJ and other biblically "optional" agencies are also considered.

There is a great deal of irony here.  While the CRCNA, at the denominational level at least, pushes politically for a more collectively oriented society (lobbying for greater government funding for anything remotely smacking of the poor), it increasingly tells CRC world missionaries they are on their own.

I for one vote to redirect ministries shares from all things political (which would include OSJ, WCRC, "Hope Equals" trips to Israel designed to figure out how bad Israel is treating Palestinians, and the many global hopping trips to "be present" at global warming conferences, meetings in Egypt, and the like) to increased funding to CRCNA world missionaries.

The fact is that if the CRCNA is going to increase its "scope," something must give.  When we increase our denominational "presence" in Washington DC's Capitol building, we must decrease our "presence" in third world mission fields.  Its time to think seriously about what the institutional church should be -- and what it shouldn't be.

Doug, just to clarify - WCRC (I am guessing you meant CRWRC/World Renew) does not receive ministry shares. Hope Equals is a program of CRWM.


I think the Banner should apologize for its misleading and uncharitable article about our mission in January.

The title (“World Missions Explains the 90 Percent, Missionaries Not Convinced”) is misleading: one has to read nine paragraphs into the article to discover that it is not the missionaries as a whole but only “some” missionaries that are not convinced. But of course by then the damage is done.

The title is also divisive, assuming the existence of a wedge between “World Missions” against “Missionaries” (as if missionaries like myself are not World Missions) and acting only to exacerbate it. By World Missions I assume the author meant people in the home office. While at consultation I looked in vain for the adversary supposedly working against me or wasting their time with the support we raise. All I found were allies.

The article says it asked career missionaries how we feel about the change. This is also misleading, giving the impression of a general survey (which I, for one, never received), when the process seems to have been nothing more than the author conversing with friends or others she knew she could turn to for sound bites.

The article is uneven in that it quotes three missionary families who oppose the change (two of whom do so anonymously), and doesn’t quote any of the many career missionaries like us who are on board with the change.

Twice the author draws attention to the $15 million budget and compares it with the number of missionaries sent out. The implication is that the reader should do the math and see that the mission is bloated and top-heavy. But only 8% of WM’s budget is administrative. The rest is for promoting what we do and doing what we do.

When my wife and I served with an interdenominational faith mission in the 90s we raised 100% of our support, with little help from that mission’s home office. We knew that to serve on the field, we would need to build and nourish a relational network back home. And we got very little in the way of salary and benefits, and the administrative cost was 12%. With World Missions our salary and benefits are comparable to those here in the States, and the office staff help us in numerous ways regarding support-raising and logistics.

We see the new 90% support paradigm as World Missions being more realistic about the way people support missions today. And we see those resistant to change as, well, resistant to change, and clinging to a paradigm from decades ago when funding was abundant and the cost of doing ministry was much lower. As we start our home service activities this month, we don’t see our time here as an interruption of what we do. It is part of what we do: encouraging people here, challenging them, networking with them, inspiring them, praying for them. The Lord does the rest, and the Lord will provide our funding.

The Banner article in question was sloppy and divisive, undermining denominational support for our mission rather than encouraging it, and making my support raising efforts even harder to carry out. I could easily imagine a dozen more helpful slants the article could have taken. This makes me wonder what the purpose of a denominational magazine is supposed to be. Using the Banner’s exposure in our denomination to take misleading cheap shots at our mission is not what I envision that purpose to be. The Banner should take better care: the (inaccurate) implication that our mission’s home office is useless bureaucratic bloat at the denominational office is a double-edged sword, and it could be pointed at the Banner as well, and lopsided articles like this do nothing to discourage that from happening.

The Banner and World Missions have the same goal: being constructive, Reformed voices in the world, uniting us and encouraging us as a denomination in our calling to proclaim, transform and renew. Yes, please challenge us to do better at what we do and how we do it. Yes, please give a voice to those who represent a different or even opposing point of view. But at least attempt to be fair and charitable in your writing rather than produce articles like this.

Blessings in Christ,

Rev. Dave Gifford, CRWM Mexico

Two further thoughts:

First, I want to apologize that my comments at a couple points are a bit harsh. I would delete the next to last paragraph if I could, since I think that was rather impolite of me. I apologize to anyone offended by anything in my comments. The article got me rattled, because I am sure it has had some detrimental effects. But I should have reacted in a more professional manner.

Second, the editor did reply to me. Thanks, Robert! After reading his polite reply, I understand the context and the process of writing the article better. I appreciate that he took my letter seriously and tried to help me understand how the article came about.

The article's title was "World Missions explains... missionaries not convinced". But what actually took place was "Some missionaries disagree...World Missions explains/defends."

I am still quite dissatisfied with the article, and continue to stand by my objections to the article stated above. I still think it was sloppy journalism. Knowing now the background of the article, I can say that had I written the article, even had I kept the content essentially the same, I would have outlined it more like this:

Title: "Some missionaries not convinced about the 90%"

1. Earlier this year, CRWM changed its support-raising model...

2.The Banner received comments from some WM missionaries concerned about the change. They wrote...

3. We asked a few other missionaries what they thought. They responded...

4. We asked WM to respond. Lois Craven explained it this way...

5. Further explanation of the changes in the model, and charts.

I think this way of laying out the article would have been more charitable, more accurate, and more true to how the article came about. The article as it was written still comes across, unintentionally, as unkind. And it is misleading and negative, and will only exacerbate the problem which the 90% was implemented to address.