right up there on the fear meter with martyrdom
How can one church raise $2.5 million for missions while so many missionaries struggle to raise a few thousand a month?
“We just raised $2.5 million for that hospital project…” I caught just a thread of a conversation across the table at a board meeting as a colleague was explaining to someone how his church was funding a hospital in a country in Africa.
$2.5 MILLION?! That sounds like real money for missions, yet raising individual support is one of the most daunting tasks a missionary faces. It is a life-long task that never quits, never gets easier, never goes away. It is right up there on the fear meter with martyrdom.
Somehow, raising money for hospitals in Africa captures hearts faster than supporting “John or Jane Missionary” at $100 a month, and asking for that $100 is torture to most missionaries. Has anyone ever said to you, “Oh, I could never be a missionary and go around begging people for money”?
I have a standard answer for that one. I look them in the eye and say, “Do you give to any missionaries?” If the answer is yes (and it typically is), I ask, “Did they beg you?” The reply is always that no, they actually had not. My question then is this: “Why do you give?”
Their answers generally include the following: “Because I want to; because I believe in what they are doing; because I feel part of something God is doing that is bigger than me and my life.” God’s people love to give, and they do so not just for the tax deductions. Nevertheless, support-discovery requires relationships, trust, prayer, diligence, creativity, and communication.
I asked a group of missionary women for their support stories. Let me share with you what they said.
Joyce writes, “One of our more effective strategies over the years has been simply to build relationships with people by inviting them to our home or meeting at a coffee shop. Taking a personal interest in their lives + sharing our hearts and food = prayer and financial supporters.”
“When I am on home service,” Lois says, “time spent with people is what has been effective. People notice that I care about them and their families. They see that I am willing to spend time with them, especially when I hang out with moms and their kids.”
“I just finished going through last year’s support figures,” Dorothy writes, “and I am again blessed with all the donors that have been SO faithful over the last 26 years of our ministry. I would say that anyone who has ‘stuck with us’ has definitely done so because we have had personal relationship with them through the years.”
Relationships begin long before support raising, notes Dawn. “My best advice for someone considering missions is to connect with people, churches, and businesses where you are—at college, at home, working a job, wherever. Get involved where you are before delving into support.”
Trust God, not your own cleverness.
Jill says, “It is not about us. It is about God. We are all called to be part of sharing the Kingdom. Because we are a fallen people, we have to keep realigning to be on track. Missionaries need to understand they are not asking for John’s money. They are asking John to partner with God for His Kingdom. We are to ask and then leave the rest to God. When you follow up you are simply seeing how God has led them.”
“Over the last two decades we have averaged 101% per month despite a strong local currency and weak dollar. This is NOT us,” Martie writes. “It is the LORD.”
“Support-raising is an adventure of building TRUST in the One who has all of the resources,” echoes Jayne. “When I landed in the United States last January, I reminded God of those I knew to have the resources I needed to return on time. God reminded me that my job was to TRUST. I prayed for two more churches, and God gave me four. There is no financial crisis in God’s economy!”
Prayer support is crucial.
Trusting God means that if you are raising support you need to be actively praying about your support and your supporters, and you need to engage others to pray with you. Sonia reiterates that: “Prayer is such an important thing. The missionary must have a disciplined prayer life, praying for their contacts—all of them, not just the ones they are contacting. They need to pray over the list and see who God lays on their heart. They need to pray before every contact with a potential donor.”
Diligence pays off.
Diligence means making phone calls, leaving messages, writing emails, texting, connecting on Facebook, and following back, following back, following back. At times missionaries in support-discovery may feel they are just being pests, but people are busy. Getting a chance to talk to people takes diligence.
Trends in today’s climate make a difference.
The support landscape is changing. Like many large churches, that church which raised $2.5 million for a hospital in Africa does not support any individual missionaries. Mercy ministries generally trump church planting. One woman says, “We sense a lessening in the church’s attention span. The whole idea of career—of 35 to 40 years on the mission field—that was modeled to us is no longer applicable. A career may be five years.”
There are other trends. Churches are sending their own teams to an area they choose, and they do it all on their own. Or they only want to support those from their own church, but then they rarely support them 100%. Large churches may require new appointees to go through levels of reading and mentoring, which is excellent preparation. However, this takes time that then cannot be given to raising support. Some churches invite a missionary to come and talk to individuals but do not pledge support from the church. Some churches only support ministry to specific people groups. Others look at five year commitments.
We learn in Missions 101 that the culture may be different, but that does not mean that it is wrong. The culture of support that we face today is different than it used to be. Long-term missionaries especially need to make an effort when on home service to understand the culture, flex with it, and be creative.
Beth wrote, “We held a dinner, using the high-school kids from our home church as waiters. We asked supporters to sponsor a ‘table,’ served Chinese food, and presented our work. This was 11 years ago, and we still have many of those table-host supporters as part of our team.”
“We listed short-term goals for our support,” said Cindy, “giving people a reason to start supporting now. For every 10% of progress toward our full support we posted a step that we could then take, something in the preparation which could then begin. There were obvious ones; for example, at 50 % support we started the visa process. There were numerous other milestones that people would not have thought about, though: at 30% we cleaned out the attic, at 40% we began to mark our ‘last times to,’ at 60% we registered our daughter for the MK school, at 70% we gave official notice to my employer, at 80%…, etc. People bought into the process because it was moving forward; it was not just a financial number. We have one supporting church, 115 individual supporters, and six businesses. We met with almost every supporting family one-on-one.”
Terri and her husband asked the Lord for anchor donors. “An anchor donor is a person or church who gives $500 or more per month. Since we did not have a lot of churches, we approached three people who had the means to do this, and they said yes. Many churches are cutting back on supporting missionaries, but some individuals have the means and the willingness when asked.”
“We knocked on the doors of many churches, but they were either not interested because there was no connection, because they were cutting back, or because they were only supporting specific regions of the world,” said Marcia. “Our biggest gifts toward the end of two years of support-raising came from Christian businessmen, when we asked companies if they would like to support us.”
For those who can be open about their ministry, social-media tools can help with raising support. Facebook is a great place to post newsletters, tell donors when you have reached milestones, and celebrate every new supporter. It helps build a spirit of team. Few missionaries in today’s climate send only paper letters; email saves hundreds of dollars each mailing. Email services like Mail Chimp help track who opens your letters; those people can then be followed up with a phone call. There is NO substitute for face-to-face meetings, but social media helps determine who is interested.
Effective communication is tied closely to support. Missionaries need to understand how each individual church handles their communication. Which donors want email? A reliable mantra for communication is this: one good story, one good picture, one screen, once-a-month. Be sure to keep all email addresses hidden so that all the reader gets is the story. There may still be some donors who want a paper letter; be diligent in identifying them and then consistently communicate that way with them.
Do the hard work in the trenches.
There is no denying that raising support is rewarding, looking in the rear-view mirror. Nevertheless, there is no getting around the fact that, when you are in the trenches, it is just plain hard work.
“When you are in the midst of it, it sometimes feels like you DEPEND on people donating,” writes Daniella. “First Corinthians 7:23 challenged me: You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. God has bought us, we belong to HIM, and nobody else is paying for our ministry but HIM. We do not depend on people, on donors, or on prayer warriors, even though God chooses to use them. We depend on the Almighty.”
“Think of the theater,” adds Martie. “For every actor on stage there are usually four people who have worked behind the scenes. Just think of movie credits! The cast may have 30, but there are hundreds of people who roll with the end credits. Our support team is just same—lots and lots of people in the background.”
“We cannot do this alone,” Dorothy says. “Our supporters get notes from us, and we want to make sure they feel like they are a part of the team.”
God may never drop $2.5 million into your support, and you may not have support from the mega-churches. The amazing part of having a support team, though, is that those people who partner with us over a lifetime of service give, and give, and give again. A missionary who serves for 30 years will likely have raised well over a million dollars! That is real money, God’s money, God’s bounty from people who stand with us, stand behind us, and go with us in their hearts to the end of the earth.
Thanks to the many women of SEND International who wrote from their experience.
Two good resources on support acquisition are:
Friend Raising: Building a Missionary Support Team That Lasts by Betty Barnett
Kingdom Come Training/ www.kingdomcometraining.com/
© 2013 Thrive.
Question to Consider: What are some support raising tips you have found effective?