As the Senior Pastor of a church that specializes in reaching the “unchurched” I experience firsthand the stereotype our society has placed on the Church as a money-grubbing, greedy, self-centered organization. The negative effects of many radio and television evangelists who beg for “support” from any happening to watch has significantly wounded the effectiveness of the local Church in its outreach efforts. Couple that with Church-run, public focused bingo, rummage sales, spaghetti feeds, raffles, and candy sales (to name just a few) and I have come to the conclusion that virtually all Church fund-raisers and the solicitation of the “unchurched” for funding is immoral.
There are at least three reasons why it is immoral to do fund-raisers or to solicit funding from non-believers.
First, fund-raisers that solicit public contributions give the Church a bad image. When consulting with struggling congregations, I ask why they want to grow. What I often hear is they are trying to survive and striving to pay their bills. What a terrible reason for inviting people to Church! “Wouldn’t you like to visit my church? We really need your money.” And yet, the image we project when we hold fund-raisers and solicit non-believers for funding is just that. In 1st Thessalonians 5.22 we read that we must “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” If the image of the Church is that it is money-focused, and if focusing on money is both unhealthy and evil, then the Church must insure it is not engendering that image.
Second, churches that spend their time, energy, and resources raising money through fund-raisers have a wrong focus. When Jesus taught his disciples about reaching people for the Kingdom of God, he emphasized relationships and acts of kindness and service. He spoke of healing, helping, feeding, and caring for those in need. The Great Commission, the mission and purpose for the Church, is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28.19). Nowhere did Jesus say that the purpose of the Church was to make money.
The early church had a reputation of being an organization focused on hope and on healing. People turned to the early church for empowerment; today, people turn away from the Church in droves, for one, because its focus is not on acts of service, healing, and hope, but on acts of self-preservation. It is terribly sad, but few churches are focusing on reaching the “unchurched”, except in the sales of rummage, bingo cards, and candy bars. One of the local churches in our area is well known for its annual “garage sale.” What a pity its reputation isn’t one of love, hope, empowerment, and a place where people can find an authentic connection with God.
A third reason to eschew fund-raisers and the solicitation of funding from non-believers is that giving to God through the Church is a spiritual discipline. Beginning in the Old Testament and running through the New is the teaching that adherents to the faith are to give to God portions of their time, talent, and treasure. The biblical standard for faithful giving is the tithe, or 10%, but it is clear that tithing is required only of those within the faith. Indeed, giving without faith, and even without right motivation, was counted as an act of evil (Genesis 4, Amos 5, Micah 6.6-8). When Jesus was asked about believers paying taxes, he was quick to point out that we must both pay our taxes and give to God what we “owe” to God (which Jesus said was way beyond the tithe, he demanded everything). The reality of the situation is that if every “believer” in the church actually tithed, the church would have no financial problems and they’d not have to do fund-raisers or solicit the “unchurched” for funding.
To ask a non-believer to participate in a spiritual discipline before they are a believer is concomitant to entering a two-year-old in a 5K run. They aren’t ready for that—yet. Paul complained that many in the Church weren’t ready for the weightier “meat” of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3.1-2; cf., Hebrews 5.12-13), how can we expect those outside the Church to share in the joys, the sacrifices, and the spiritual discipline of giving?
If the Church is to become faithful in its mandate
to reach those outside the Kingdom of God then it
is going to have to regain its integrity. So
long as the “unchurched” see the Church
as a money-focused organization, and so long as the
Church does little to dispel that view, then the
mission of the Church will go largely unfulfilled. When “believers” become
faithful followers of Jesus and of his teachings
and when they practice the disciplines of being faithful
even with their wallets, then the Church will no
longer need to hold bake sales.