Creative Leadership

Money Follows Ministry: Why It’s a Myth

Whenever I share this idea I almost always get some pretty hot responses. I expect it of course, because the idea is so ingrained in people that we don’t ever stop to think about it. In a perfect world – absolutely, that’s the way I’d love things. You do great works or minister to people; and then support, community, donor dollars – whatever, will flow in.

After all, it sounds so noble and spiritual. But it’s just not true and here’s why:

In an earlier time, it might have actually been true, and that’s probably what started the saying or meme. 30 or 40 or more years ago, there wasn’t much competition out there in the non-profit or religious space – especially in the media. In the late sixties and early seventies, Oral Roberts’ prime time specials were pulling in more viewers that most prime time network shows today. Billy Graham could pack any arena in America. But then something happened – cable TV. Channels splintered into the hundreds, then the Internet opened up, and now iPods, mobile phones, and more. As a result, we live in the most distracted culture in the history of the world.

What does that have to do with money and ministry? Plenty. Today, there are a multitude of voices crying out for your support and donor dollars. I can turn on the TV and within 5 minutes find a program asking me to feed the hungry, build water wells, stop human trafficking, and more. (And that doesn’t count the clutter from the con artists offering all the Jesus Junk products like anointed oil vials, personal prophecies, etc.).

Today, viewers, supporters, congregations, and donors are simply overwhelmed. We call it “donor fatigue.” Plus, we’re facing a new generation that grew up starting with Napster thinks everything they see or hear should be free. The idea of actually responding with support doesn’t even occur to most of them.

As a result, I’ve seen hundreds of great, effective, and committed ministry and non-profit organizations go out of business. They did great work. Ministered to thousands. Changed people’s lives. Wonderful, godly people. And still went under.

Why? Because money just doesn’t necessarily follow ministry. If the myth works for you, great, but it doesn’t work for the majority of well-intentioned and dedicated people on the front lines of ministry.  I have discovered that most of the people that defend the concept have really small ministries where significant funding isn’t really needed.  But step out to make a huge difference in the world, and you’ll see what I mean.

So what’s the lesson? God is soverign and He can do what he wants.  But read your Bible – there’s something for us to do as well. It means that you have to tell people what to do. Give them an opportunity to support your work. Invite them to be on your team. Don’t just assume that once they’ve been touched by your efforts, they’ll automatically get on board. To impact or ministerto people and then walk away expecting them to automatically respond is a death wish.

Absolutely minister first. Do what you say you’ll do. Change people’s lives. But don’t end there. Take the next step and give them the opportunity respond, because if you don’t, you’ll find that bankruptcy follows ministry.

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  1. Phil,

    I absolutely agree with you — “money follows ministry” is probably an old school paradigm that needs to be shifted. As I was telling some communication colleagues yesterday, people support people and causes.

    In my experience, a personal connection is the strongest motivator for people to remain faithful in their financial support, even during tough economic times. It’s that personal sense of responsibility for another human being that is the strongest motivator.

    The second strongest motivator today I’d say is causes. As Tom Watson explains in his book “CauseWired,” causes are not just issues that people care about. Causes are now a part of our social identity — it’s an identifiable part of who we are. When I join a new cause on Facebook, I’m not just doing it because I care about that cause (which I do), I’m doing it in part because I want other people to know I care about that cause (it’s part of who I am, my online identity). That’s a pretty huge psycho-social shift that many non-profits and ministries haven’t fully grappled with yet. In a nutshell: “I am what I support.”

    I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing, but I would say (as Watson argues) it is the reality of the hyper-connected, always-on, 24/7, globalized world that we live in today. That’s the new reality. Get used to it, embrace it, or go the way of the dinosaur.

    How’s that for two cents? 😉 Always great discussions here, Phil! I hope others will chime in as well.

    Steve K.

  2. I totally agree, Phil.

    However, allow me to augment one point.  You stated: “I have discovered that most of the people that defend the concept have really small ministries where significant funding isn’t really needed.”

    You and I both know of a major television network that sent out a letter to all of its paid time programmers last week in which the president of the network said: “Use that time [your program airtime] to minister to your TV viewers.  If you will do this, I can assure you that you and your ministry will be supported!  God’s word promises this again and again.”

    The group I referenced is not a really small ministry, it’s a really really big ministry.  They don’t just minister and sit back whilst the support rolls in — they ask for support every day.

    Money seems to follow some ministries… but it also seems to follow certain hucksters, snake oil salesmen and master prophets.

    Here’s what I’ve found to be true:  Money follows ministries that minister well to their audience and who ask for support in a compelling way, and routinely show that they use the donor’s dollars in an ethical and effective way.

  3. I completely agree and disagree!  This discussion is akin to the Calvinism / Arminienism discussion (not sure I’m spelling that right), and as with that, the truth is a river that flows between two banks…

    By my nature, I’m a task oriented, get it done guy, so my leaning on this would be that of course God CAN do anything, but if you are a ministry and expect that God will always choose to feed you through the ravens, you aren’t going to make it.  You have to do the good works that God set forward in advance, both in ministering and in communicating about the ministry in a way that raises support.  That’s uncomfortable for many people so they abdicate that responsibility and look up for ravens.  If you aren’t a good steward with the ministry God gives you, and don’t do the hard work of managing that ministry’s income and expenses, it won’t exist forever.  Part of ministry work is giving God the credit, and that is NOT the same as the ministry itself. It is the testimonial of the ministry that inspires it’s growth in volunteers and donors.  That is what fundraising falls under.

    Having said that, God just funded our teen issue ministry My Broken Palace with six figures relatively out of the blue.  Our first year grassroots budget is paid for. Big vision from God, then a big raven.  However, I’m not expecting God to miraculously do that everytime we need revenue.  Elijah wasn’t fed by ravens for his whole life… He did have to go out and get his own food most of the time.

    I think the answer is that God supplies fish to you in miraculous ways and supplies you with the fishing pole to do your own fishing as well. 



  4. I agree with this article with one minor difference.  Money follows vision, not ministry.  A strong leader must have vision and then be able to clearly communicate it.  A strong leader can communicate that vision in such a way that others will want to give to it.  Venture capitalists want both a solid business plan and someone with vision to carry it out.

    Money will follow vision if given the opportunity like Phil says here.



  5. I am in line with Leo, being basically a promoter of ministries most of my career,  since the late 80’s, and enduring scandal, bad economies, lousy communicators, and donor fatigue due to massive competition for donor dollars, I have learned that usually the con artists eventually blow up, (not always), and those who are able to to connect the hearts of the listener to the vision of the ministry succeed.


  6. I think you have nailed it, Phil. As a former career missionary who is now a Senior Pastor in the USA and who grew up as a PK and MK, I can say from experience that some of the people I have known whose ministry was most profoundly impacting others sometimes suffered financial lack, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was because they did not practice good stewardship in their personal lives and ministries; sometimes it was because they were not faithful givers themselves and thus were never positioned before God to receive any abundance; sometimes it was because they had either never learned to fundraise or because they refused to fundraise, deeming it “unspiritual” or even unbiblical; and sometimes it may well have been for other reasons known only to God that were not in any way indicative of failure on their part.

    I met missionaries on the field, for instance, who had bought into what they thought was George Muller’s and Hudson Taylor’s paradigm of only “believing” without ever “asking,” but who had either overlooked or simply did not know that there was much more to both of those icon’s testimonies to the faithfulness of God in the area of finances than prayer and faith alone. Sharing financial “prayer needs” in a letter with friends and past supporters without directly soliciting a donation is in itself a form of fundraising…!

  7. Regarding TV… its interesting to note that airtime costs have NOT increased significanly over the years, as a matter of fact in many cases costs have decreased due to current ecomomic conditions while potential households (available homes viewiing TV numbers) are on the rise.

    Still airtime is the largest budget item that a broadcast ministry must contend with and the key is to have provoking content/causes/products, etc. that generate direct response and a positive ROI. 

    How one raises funds is unique to each ministry…old school ways may work for a little while longer…but I’m seeing trends where certain ministries who have developed unique niches have brokenthrough. I see others with a big vision, but TV doesn’t work for them. TV is certainly not for the fainthearted, nor is it right for every ministry. Maybe that’s why they need to hire you Phil… 😉   

  8. In my experience with angel and venture capital, I’ve found that money follows clearly communicated vision only when the leader has a track record of solid execution, which in Christian terms I’d call “effective ministry.” When leaders are creating a track record of results, communicating clear vision, and showing a compelling spiritual return on investment, they break through the competitive donor clamor. They are also more likely to get bigger checks from larger, deep-pocket donors.

  9. Steve –

    Do you really believe that a personal connection and belief in a cause trumps “What’s in it for me” as the strongest motivator?

    No ill will intended here – it might be that we’ve become more altruistic by buying into “Story” marketing, but I don’t think I’ve seen it.  Has there been a shift?

  10. Leo –

    I don’t support organizations because their vision is strong and/or is communicated well.  It still has to resonate with people – either by meeting a need in their life (Ministry) or through a burden God has placed on their hearts (Felt Need).

    I think part of the entire discussion is that you have communicate your need in a motivating way.

  11. Steve –

    You sound like you are selling someone on buying airtime – oh wait, that’s what you do.  And you do it very well I might add and that people should hire you as well!

    Costs have remained fairly steady because, while the television universe is going up, viewership is going down.  Television media consumption is on the down slope as the younger audience who use to feed the numbers are turning to other forms of media instead of broadcast television.


  12. It sounds like Phil has a lot of television folks reading and not as many fundraisers – where is Mary Hutchinson!

    This “Money follows ministry” discussion sounds like the 80’s.  It followed what I called “Evolution for Baptist Preachers.”  Almost all of the pulpit ministries in the day were Baptist preachers who wanted to be on television who said that God will provide so we won’t ask for money.

    So they aired their programs and God didn’t provide anything but a bill from TBN.  Then it became we won’t ask for money on air, we’ll just do it through direct mail.  More money came in and over time they could pay their TBN bill.  But the direct mailers wanted to be paid and funny, the television department wanted to be paid as well.

    Next – they decided they wouldn’t ask for money on air, they would just thank those who gave to the ministry on air and hope everyone got the hint.  This didn’t move the needle much at all.

    So to the discussion above sounds like you have to ask if you want people to give – you can’t just assume it.  I would agree.

    But to fundraisers, I’m not sure that “Money follows ministry” it is a myth – yet.  To fundraisers, it was the fact that you could get better results from a longer letter/appeal/et al if you started with ministry, some ministry thought from the principle personality, or a testimony of a changed life “because of your support” before you asked for money.  That is and was building the story, the personal connection, pulling the heart strings, communicating vision, embracing the cause – whatever you want to call it – that built a donor file.

    That might be changing.  Has asking for the big dollar “Parnter” commitment or the $1000 gift up front become the new gateway for permission-based marketing / fundraising?  Are ministries and fundraisers seeking to just find “True Fans” / “True Believers”?  Call it fast embrace, call it filtering, call it a “bagel” (okay, only the West Wing “True Fans” will get that one).  But many ministries seem to be doing away with the ministry and moving to “Money follows the ask.”

    And quite frankly, it works.  Those who will pony up $1K are gold!  You don’t need as many donors, you can give them great premiums and they’ve got more money where that first Grand came from!

    Take it for what that is – my ranting!

  13. Maybe mass-ministry is a thing of the past or we are going full-circle. Paul who headed up the first global ministry was a tent maker. He solicited donations for the poor, but not for his own ministry. As several have commented, small ministries do not need money following them.

    With the internet’s social media and blogs, thousands of ministers have the opportunity to minister to millions of people. How much does an account on Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter cost? Nothing. You can get your own web site for about $100 a year using WordPress or Drupal.

    Billy Graham and Oral Roberts were effective ministers that used mass media well in their times. This is a different time, a different media, and money does not need to follow ministry. What we need are thousands and thousands of ministers to “… go out into the highways and hedges …” (Luke 14:23) of the internet. Reaching out to every niche group, forum, discussion, and tweek to preach Christ.

  14. Great post Phil. I totally agree. The Bible is littered with examples of things that were clearly God’s will but didn’t happen because of human stubborness, doubt, greed etc.

    It’s a mystery why He has chosen to partner with us. Heck, if I was God, I’d get the Angels to do the ministry, they are more obedient and dont require food, clothing and shelter.

    But God is God. I am not.

  15. I agree and also think that ministry doesn’t follow money. I have seen money thrown at things that don’t work and ministries supported finanically that shouldn’t be.

  16. Exactly, that’s a good point. I live in Poland, a country said to be catholic. Perhaps it is to some extent, but most faithfuls hardly know Bible, they care only about tradition and enviromental standards. I mean they follow society rules and behaviour but their faith is flat and without any intelectual background . As such they don’t care much about ministry but vision really appeals to them.The greatest success was achived by a single fanatic polish priest, who created a real family of fundamentalists, catholic faithfuls hating jews, communists, gays and democratic standards of freedom and tolerance.It’s a truly loud family of mainly old, uneducated poeple, but the priest managed to build financial kingdom with their support. Shame.

  17. Phil,

    Here is where you nailed it: “Don’t just assume that once they’ve been touched by your efforts, they’ll automatically get on board …. Take the next step and give them the opportunity respond, because if you don’t, you’ll find that bankruptcy follows ministry.”

    It’s all about engagement – and that’s what you’re saying. Its’s the ‘Age of Engage.’ (Kn Moy, Masterworks)

    Right on!

  18. Postscript, I am flattered!

    Does money follow ministry?  Only if ministry is pulling the right bait!

    I have met countless missionaries and pastors who were awesome in ministry, and lame in marketing.  They never grew beyond their small area of influence.

    Does God provide? Yes.  He provides me daily with food.  And His means for doing that are the gifts He gave me and the doors He opened for me.  I have to take advantage of what He gave me.  I have to work, or I am not fed.

    Can He provide without marketing?  Sure.  But like He provided manna, it is a rare event.

  19. I was one who reacted quicklyk when you first posted this; because I did and do believe that “money follows ministry.” But now that you’ve expanded your thoughts I concur…and would perhaps addendum the statement “money follows ministry IF you ask for it” or somesuch.

    I’ve been in vocational ministry since 1978, with four different parachurch (I hate that term) organizations, and have been “on support” all that time. When I first went “on support” I knew no one; I was converted in prison and everyone i knew was either in prison or should have been. But I was “sold” on the concept, still am, and rejoice and praise God that He has been faithful to provide for our needs these just-over-three-decades.

    Since I’m on the topic, I also am convinced there is no “way” to raise support; you’ve got to find what works for you. I’ve NEVER made an appointment, if I feel someone needs to be extended an opportunity to support me, I send them a letter and leave it in their court. Is that “the” way? Nope, but it is mine, and it’s proved itself.

    And I work at staying in touch with my people, and for that I am so grateful for the internet!

    I appreciate your work, friend; and am glad you are in His corner!

  20. I tend to disagree with you, Phil, on this one.

    God has placed in the Body “Provisionaries” and “Visionaries”.  The visionaries have the vision. They minister, they send out, they do the work of the ministry. When the provisionaries see all that God is accomplishing through the visionaries, because of the gifting God has given them, their natural instinct is to GIVE – and give they do. They just need to see the value, the results of their giving. If they are not convinced that the results are there, then they will not give. The question is “How do we attract the provisionaries’ attention?  I do agree with you about the fractionalized pie – too many asks and the oversaturation of the market – but the reason people may not give as they would like is because there has been little accountability and proof that the ministries have used the money for the intended purpose.  The media clientele I have had have appreciated learning how to present their ministries using new media and enabling provisionaries to partner with them to participate in the blessing of giving as unto the Lord.   Gene, Creative Media, 918  381  1964



  21. Well put.  I know of several ministers who have worked hard and sacrificially to build God’s Kingdom, only to find themselves with lost income, homes and in debt in this economy.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom and truth to God’s people.

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