It's budget-prep time here at WMC as our church council looks toward the 2015 fiscal year and our semi-annual congregational business meeting in February.  While the "numbers people" talk cost-of-living projections and rate-of-increase percentages (or whatever), my mind starts to wander.

This year, one of my frequent wanderings has been a big-picture wondering about the relationship between the local church and its partners in church and charity work.

When I was growing up, my Brethren In Christ church was very invested in world missions.  From what I recall, the church collected money--lots of it--from the congregation, then that money went to the BIC Mission Board who then distributed it to their various mission projects and missionaries as needed.  It was a similar story with local ministries and other charities; if an individual had a passion for a particular project then an appeal would be made to the church decision-makers to add that project to the list of charities the church supported.

The local church was always the financial link between the congregation and whatever projects church members wanted to support.

In recent years, however, there's been a shift to a different model of charitable support.  If your mailbox (email and otherwise) looks anything like mine, it's often filled with requests from charities of all shapes and sizes: child sponsorships, Upstream projects, missionaries responsible for raising their own support... even Mennonite Church Canada is sending out mass appeals directly to individual donors these days.  The appeal is always personal and direct: if you care about X person or project, send your donation to this organization immediately and directly (or pray first, for religious organizations, then send the money).

The connection is now directly between the individual and the charitable organization; the local church isn't part of the equation any longer.

Now there's nothing wrong with charities directly looking to individuals for support; perhaps its appeal to personal/consumer satisfaction and control even in charitable giving isn't the best, but it's the way business is done--particularly as church attendance wanes across Canada.

What I wonder is about the impact of this new formula on the budgets of local churches?  Assuming that the amount of money donated hasn't significantly increased under this model (cynical, but probably true), the pie is just being divided differently.  More money goes directly to charities, while less goes into the offering plate at church.  Church budgets aren't as big as they could be, but a significant contributing factor is that much of the money that used to be routed through the local church is now going directly to the charities congregants wish to support.  Not a problem, and not a sign of a decrease in generosity, either.

If this is the case, though, perhaps our church budget should reflect this reality without feeling guilty that our church isn't giving (more) money to our partner organizations.

Of course it's fair to question the nature of internal spending; if the money--and time and focus--the church invests in its own projects and programming only benefit those within the church, that is a problem that should be addressed.  

But if, as is the case at WMC in my opinion, our resources are wisely and fairly invested in the work of the church, that's not being selfish.  We share our building with the community as much as possible, we encourage our staff to invest time with projects of Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada and SK, we use our communication platform to promote the good work of local and international charities, and we genuinely "provoke one another to love and good deeds."  Our internal spending makes all of this work outside of ourselves possible.  If this is the case, it's not selfish to use our resources internally to empower this work.

What do you think?

Do people still give money to the local church assuming that it will be distributed to other charities?  Or should the church budget be more (if not entirely?) about what the local church is directly involved in, trusting and encouraging church folks to give widely and generously of their time and money to other charitable organizations as individuals?

Is a potential decline in the amount our church budgets in support of partner organizations a reflection of a (selfish) drift in the priorities of the church, or is it more of a matter of how money is donated and how those donations are counted?

Or is there value in paying forward a portion of donations, even as a symbolic demonstration of our collective priorities and purposes beyond the local church?  Do we have a collective financial responsibility to our partner organizations that goes beyond encouraging individual donations?

Some of the things I think about while the details of the 2015 budget numbers whiz in one ear and out the other...


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