Should we use professional fund-raisers?

The difference between a contribution and an offering may make the difference between failure and success in your building program.

Mel Rees, a retired stewardship educator, hasn't really retired yet. From his home base in Woodland, Washington, he continues writing and holding seminars.

Life seems to run in cycles—or circles. Solomon expressed it best: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been" (Eccl. 3:15). Unfortunately this seems to be true of church fund-raising. Just when it appeared that the true concepts of stewardship, as they relate to the support of God's work, were being generally accepted, some church leaders began reverting back to old methods and accepting offers of help from professional fund-raising companies.

Their reasoning appears sound: there is a need for money; this is a way to get it. But can bringing in outside help really solve the problem?

Possibly today's church leaders weren't around or were just toddlers when professional fund-raising firms swept across the religious world. These leaders didn't experience the pressures, nor see some of the results, of these "blitz" programs. To them the glib salesmen with their colorful brochures filled with promises and testimonials might seem like a ray of sun shine on an overcast day—a panacea for the church's financial problems.

A money machine?

The mid-afternoon phone call from a church leader asked my opinion about a certain fund-raising firm. I explained that my knowledge was limited to what I had read in a brochure, and a report I had from a church that had used its services. I asked why he was interested.

"We are considering building a new church," he explained, "and we need to raise a large sum of money."

His answer highlighted a dilemma common in many churches: the question of finance. But is a lack of money the problem? If it is, then any method that would produce the required funds would seem to be a satisfactory solution. If, on the other hand, a lack of money is not the problem—if the problem is more basic —adequate funds might ease a temporary situation but leave the real malady untreated.

He explained that the church board was going to finalize its plans that evening, and he wanted my opinion. I asked him how much the church was going to cost and how much the fundraising firm was asking for its services.

"The church cost is projected at $700,000," he said, "and the fund raiser's fee is $28,800."

"I'm curious," I continued. "Does this company provide a money machine, or where will the money for this additional expense come from?"

There was a significant pause. Then he replied, "I guess it will come out of our pockets."

"Really," I pointed out, "from a practical point of view, this doesn't make much sense to me. Instead of a $700,000 project, you will now have one costing $728,800! Have you thought this through? Have you considered the benefits versus the disadvantages?"

"I'm not sure I understand. Please explain."

"Well, for starters," I answered, "you will no doubt have the advantage of a carefully planned and executed program run by a trained professional. Your members, under varying types and degrees of pressure, will be expected to indicate the amount they are going to contribute. The church will end up with a fistful of slips of paper, not all of which will be honored. These will represent instant commitments—not instant money.

"But," I continued, "you may also inherit a current of resentment by members who have been forced to give more than they originally intended and those who are opposed to any kind of pressure—who feel their giving should be between them and God and want no outside interference."

"I surmise," he laughed, "that you are less than enthusiastic about looking for help outside the church."

"That is my opinion," I replied, "for I believe that if a congregation has to go outside for assistance in raising money to build a church, it is not ready to build a house of God. A church is only an architectural design, but a house of God is a people worshiping together in love and unity, with common aims and objectives. To build a church requires a site, plans, and money, but the requisites for preparing a house of God are first, devotion to God, and second, a spirit of sacrifice.

"If your membership had these requisites, it wouldn't be necessary to seek professional assistance; they would give eagerly and joyously, making such a plan unnecessary."

He thanked me and hung up. I don't know what the board decided to do.

Biblical principles

The thoughts I expressed to him are not just my personal opinion. They are based on definite biblical principles that can help determine the spiritual climate of the church.

In the first place, fund-raising for a new church is not biblical. One can find ample precedent in the Bible for encouraging voluntary giving, but none for fund-raising.

It would be impossible to harmonize the motive factor in the story of the widow's mites with the "influence, like water, flows downhill" concept in so-called creative fund-raising. Pressure of any kind would be suspect in light of Jesus' words "if ye love me," or Paul's "if there be first a willing mind."

In the record of the building of the first church (the tabernacle in the wilderness) , we don't find God advising Moses to bring in an Amalekite (or even a brother Ephraimite) to head the fundraising program. Moses was directed, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering" (Ex. 25:2). No pressure is implied here; it was to be a heart experience. One finds no record of a canvass organization, nor a banquet to whip up enthusiasm. The results were so immediate, so spectacular, that the people had to be "restrained from bringing" (Ex. 36:6).

It was a disappointment to David when he was refused permission to construct a house for God. But he was so enthusiastic for the project that he made preparations "with all his might." Fol lowing his example, "the leaders,... the captains,... with the officers. . . offered willingly. . . . Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly (1 Chron. 29:6-9, NKJV). Nothing is said about anyone soliciting anyone. There were no signed pledges, just freewill gifts. And while Solomon did send to the king of Tyre for a man to superintend the construction, this had nothing to do with fund-raising. The willingness of the people made fund-raising unnecessary.

Have times changed so much? Have we changed so much that we have to resort to man-made methods to finance construction of a place where we can worship God—a place where He has promised to meet with us? Does it seem reasonable to increase the cost of the project by hiring someone to coerce us to give? This is another objection to seeking for help outside our own communion— it is unreasonable.

An exhaustive search might locate a church that has unlimited resources, but this isn't the norm. Usually the construction of a new church, school, or other facility requires real sacrifice on the part of the membership. It is not only unreasonable but unfair to lay an additional burden on these people. It is also unnecessary, because the work of God is not dependent upon human resources. To re sort to paid outside help to coerce us to give is an evidence of a lack of faith in God's promise to supply all our needs.

Luther Powell, in his book Money and the Church (New York: Association Press) writes: "There is something lacking in the spiritual life of the church when secular professional money raisers have to be employed. One's giving should be a manifestation of his faith, and it seems to be a reflection on the church that the faith it proclaims has not produced the necessary funds for maintaining and extending her program" (p. 182).

Instead of looking around for assistance, we should look up! Our daily sustenance is dependent upon our efforts combined with divine power. When we have worked to the limit of our capacity, using the time, talents, and resources lent to us, we are promised that God will supply any lack. This is a basic principle. But sometimes we forget this when faced with a formidable task such as building a house of worship.

Heart trouble

Employing human methods to solve our apparent financial problems is ineffective because human methods treat only the symptom, not the problem. In reality, we do not have a money problem, but heart trouble! This must be the case, for a person will support anything he believes in, regardless of the cost. One must question the belief and/or motive of any one who has to be urged, begged, or forced into giving. Any response could only be termed a contribution, not an offering. The definition of an offering implies a gift, an expression of love and gratitude.

If we would only consider the privilege permitted us in building a house of God, referred to by David as "the footstool of our God" (1 Chron. 28:2) and by Solomon as a place "to burn sacrifice before him" (2 Chron. 2:6), we would consider this such a precious opportunity that, like the people of Israel, we would give joyously, willingly, and liberally.

One wonders why, when working in cooperation with God is such a beautiful experience, we would revert back to methods that have caused so many negative reactions. We cannot measure the success of any program by buildings or even large sums of money; the end never justifies the means. Rather we must consider what effect the fund-raising has had on the givers. Has anyone been led to a closer, more trusting walk with God? Or has anyone been hurt by the pressure applied?

A professional man, a dedicated Christian, was telling me of his experience in a building program. He said that he wasn't in favor of the church hiring outside help, but that he "went along" with the majority vote. After hearing some of his experiences as the general chairman of the canvass committee, I asked him if he would welcome a repeat performance. He replied, "Never! I'd change my membership first!"

Then there was the man who was "put on the spot" during a fellowship dinner at the climax of a canvass program. He got up from the table, picked up his hat and coat, and left. He never returned to the dinner. Or to the church.

Possibly another reason for the difficulty in funding a new church building program is that the church has lost some of its aura of sacredness.

In reply to a letter asking if people felt their churches were getting away from serious worship and becoming too social, Ann Landers received an overwhelming response. This is a sampling of the comments made: "very little spirituality," "the music is a disgrace," "too much fun stuff in the service," "very little worshiping and quiet meditation," "show-biz time," "might as well be an amusement park," "too much leaning on parishiners to shell out money."

There could even be a danger in our friendliness during the church service, for this might affect our reverence for this meeting place with God. We might for get that this is sacred ground. This could cause us to view church building and maintenance projects in the same light as we would regard the building and care of, say, a Grange hall. In which case, we might be concerned with such earthly considerations as site, plans, and money rather than such spiritual virtues as devotion to God and a spirit of sacrifice.


The building and maintenance of a house for God should be a devout exercise of the highest order, one of the most rewarding a congregation can experience. It is a collective response to the promise "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). Such a project should electrify the church; it should call for the combined energies of every man, woman, and child.

In a church in which love for God gives impetus to actions, time, abilities, and money will be offered with eagerness and rejoicing that will overflow into the surrounding community. A building project carried out under these conditions would be an irresistible exhibition of love for God and our fellowmen.

No one denies that choosing the right site, drawing careful plans, and assuring adequate financing are essential in the building of any structure, but we must never allow a building, no matter how grand its style, to overshadow the God whom it is to honor.

Careful planning is also essential, and the most experienced advice should be sought and followed. Jesus said: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" (Luke 14:28). Establishing a rate of anticipated income is also an element of good planning. However, in our deter mining of this, care must be used to be sure no pressure is involved. The decision must be between the individual and God—it must be anonymous unless the individual chooses to reveal it.

All of these necessary procedures —preparing a site, planning the construction, evaluating the potential of the church—must be accomplished under biblical guidelines. This is the only way a house of God can be prepared!

When in our love and fervor for God we have worked and given to the limit of our individual and collective capacity, then we can expect the impossible, for God never gives a work to be done with out making provision for its accomplishment. We are limited to following directions; He is unlimited in producing the results.

We worship a God whose resources are inexhaustible. How could we ever have a money problem? If there is a problem, it is a heart problem!

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Mel Rees, a retired stewardship educator, hasn't really retired yet. From his home base in Woodland, Washington, he continues writing and holding seminars.

March 1989

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