In a small church, money is always an issue. Each member’s financial situation and giving level can have a meaningful impact on the budget. Ministry budgets are small, and in small towns, most of your members live on a modest income without much margin.
So when it comes to larger ventures like a short-term mission trip, the money just seems out of reach. The cost per person is more than what most of your people could just pay out-of-pocket, but the total cost of the trip seems well beyond the reach of any budget category.
Consequently, churches with less than 75 people believe that it just not possible.
This year, we are planning our sixth trip to bush Alaska. Our church averages less than forty in weekly attendance. Our mission team is only four people, but the total cost of the trip would be close to 10% of our budget. How does a small church find money for missions?
Here are five places to look…
1 – Your own people
Some small churches have one or two people with the means and the heart to give. If a pastor is effective in casting the vision, these folks will provide funds. Other churches are well below their giving capacity, meaning that if the members who attended regularly gave closer to a tithe, the budget would be much higher. In either of these situations, there is likely untapped monies to be raised in the church family. But often small churches are able to maintain a budget only because the people are such faithful givers. In our church, I looked at our giving versus our attendance and determined our people were probably giving close to as much as they could. The money was going to have to come primarily from outside our own congregation.
It is still good to encourage giving and participation among your own congregation. Only a small number will go, but it is important for the goals of missions that everyone in the church feel like they are a part of the mission. Here’s where “giving clubs” ($10/week, $20/month) can encourage smaller investments. You can create fundraisers where people spend money they were going to spend anyway but that goes toward missions. Take-out lunches after Sunday service is a good example. Some restaurants will allow an organization to have a night where a portion of the profits of that night’s checks to toward your project. And yes, even a bake sale can raise a few dollars from your own people.
One type of fundraising I don’t really recommend are those sale items that come from professional fundraising companies, selling things like candles or knives or cookie dough.
You’re not likely to make enough sales in a small church to make a big difference, and so it’s not worth hassling your people to buy things they don’t need at inflated prices.
2 – The social networks of your team members
Our mission trip is a $0 budget item, meaning that we raise all the money from outside of regular budget giving. (Doing this can also dodge some of the “why don’t we spend the money on need around here?” criticism.) That means that whatever money we don’t raise otherwise comes out of the pocket of the individuals who are going on the trip. However you raise money otherwise, your team members will be left with a portion to pay out of pocket. If that amount is large, they often need help. In the past, this help was gathered through traditional “mission letters,” where people wrote their friends and family, asking for contributions. Now fundraising sites like GoFundMe make this type of fundraising less awkward and easily shared on social media.
3 – Your community
Most of the money we get for our Alaska mission trip comes from outside our congregation and is raised at our annual 5K race that takes place the first Saturday in April. A fundraising event is a great way to involve your community and community businesses in the effort. We expect to raise enough money for the airfare of all of our participants with this race.
When choosing a fundraising event, think of something that will fit your town and be a blessing to it. A race is a fairly simple event, but there are others that may fit your community better, like a fishing derby, a car show, or any number of other ideas. Talk to community leaders about your ideas and come up with an event that will both meet your needs and the needs of your community. Our 5K brings as many outsiders into town as any other yearly event, and it also brings people together within the community.
A smallish 5K race like ours needs about a dozen volunteers on race day but also depends on the participation of your people in finding business sponsorships, recruiting participants, and registering for the race themselves. It’s a big event that requires a lot of work, but it can be done. And when you pull off an event like that, it is a morale boost for your church and your town.
4 – The credit card companies
If your mission trip requires air travel, there are ways to get tickets at drastically reduced or even no cost through credit card rewards and perks. Investigate cards associated with the airlines you would be using. A couple of us who go to Alaska regularly have Alaska Airlines cards that give a free (plus fees) companion ticket each year. That allows one of our four team members to fly for $150 instead of $1100. And I use my card for reimbursable church expenses and gasoline all year long, earning enough miles that a second ticket is nearly paid for as well. Once we started taking advantage of these rewards, combined with the money raised through the 5K, the out-of-pocket expense for team members was reduced to an amount that is well within reach of almost everyone in the church.
5 – Your Heavenly Father
We didn’t know all of this when we got started. I went into the planning for our first 5K hoping to raise enough money to cover the airfare for just one person, but God has provided abundantly. The decision to go is not based on math; it is based on faith that God will provide the means once we choose to respond in obedience to his call. Prayerfully seek the Lord in how he wants you to involve your church in his global mission, and then make plans to go, trusting that God will provide the money. Believe the truth that his resources are infinite and that he will provide from those riches so that you can do his will. The benefit is that, when he does provide, your faith and the faith of your congregation is strengthened.