The Glaring Omission in the Empty Tomb Stats: the Church/Nonprofit Complex

(Be sure to catch up on these stats before you read the rest of this post, as otherwise this post won’t make a whole lot of sense.)

In his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry”–what has become known as the Military/Industrial Complex.

To the best of my knowledge, this is not my farewell address, but the glaring omission in our industry’s analysis of the latest stats from empty tomb lead me to cry foul in the same way Eisenhower did:

Empty tomb (whom I really do like a lot, by the way) and others castigate churches and praise nonprofits for church’s decreased spending on benevolence and nonprofit’s laser focus on The Things That Matter. Empty tomb and others cluck their tongue at the church and see it receiving the just desserts of the desertion of its duty.

Let’s pick up from the Sylvia Ronsvalle quote we ended with yesterday, via The Lead:

Ronsvalle called the findings “unintended side effects of the ‘seeker’ mentality” that creates a consumer mindset within U.S. churches, one that says “‘We’re here to serve you,’ not ‘We’re here to transform you into somebody who serves others.’”

But here is the problem:

Nonprofits are not raising money by saying, “We’re here to transform you into somebody who serves others.” They’re raising money by saying, “We’re the professional life savers. Don’t try this at home. It is not the work of mere lay people. Send money so that we can do the ministry.”

The scandal behind the empty tomb stats is not just the church’s dereliction of duty. The scandal is the Church/Nonprofit Complex: Churches turned Christians into passive pew sitters, and nonprofits came in and profiteered. Christians became convinced that ministry was the province of professionals, so they shifted their giving to the Christians who were the most professional in each cause; namely, nonprofit organizations.

In short, the shift in funding is the logical consequence  of the professionalization of Christianity, in which churches and nonprofits are both complicit.

The only mention made of the possible reliance of nonprofits on churches is this one, from Sylvia Ronsvalle:

Of particular concern to Ronsvalle is data showing that 92 percent of charitable giving by people younger than 25 goes to “church, religious organizations,” according to federal data. As age increases, so does the amount given to other categories, including charities and educational institutions.

“What that strongly suggests is that young people are learning their charitable values in the religious context,” Ronsvalle said. “That’s why we’re concerned about the importance of denominations leading their local congregations into a broader vision than institutional maintenance.

Point well taken, Sylvia. Now join me in being equally concerned about the importance of nonprofits leading their donors into a broader vision of involvement in causes, one that goes beyond giving away money to professionals to do the job God intends the church to do.

Churches and nonprofits have to learn how to relate differently, for the sake of the individual Christians who have been reduced to human ATM machines by both institutions. Nonprofits are heavily leveraged into churches for their giving–and not just corporate church giving, which is clearly down. Nonprofits mine churches for individuals ripe to give, and they fail to acknowledge that such extraction has an impact not only on church finances but on the stunting of the growth of individual Christians, who never grow to full maturity in Christ simply by supporting the work of Christians who are better trained in a particular cause than they are.

It’s a tragedy of the commons in the making.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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6 Responses to The Glaring Omission in the Empty Tomb Stats: the Church/Nonprofit Complex

  1. Amy Karjala says:

    While this is not your farewell address, it certainly would have been a good one. It names the real victim in this tragedy — not the budgets of churches and nonprofits, but the individual Christian whose growth in Christ is being shortchanged by outsourcing ministry. I second your call to churches and nonprofits to learn to relate differently. But, individual Christians aren’t hapless victims either, are we?

  2. Fr. Barnabas Powell says:

    What a fantastic post! It has been my contention that the reduction of the average church goer to an audience rather than a congregation is both spiritually and theologically unsound. Now we see the fruit of the pacification of the average Christian! God grant us once again to call the faithful to be a congregation meant to make visible the Kingdom of God in their midst and with their lives. Thanks Rev. Foley for your blog.

    • EFoley says:

      Good to have you post in the comments, Father Powell! As a “John Wesley man”, my affinity for the Orthodox church runs deep. I would be honored if you ever detect that influence in my posts!

  3. I just found your blog a few weeks ago and have greatly enjoyed processing your posts.

    As a new and inexperienced Development Director at a young nonprofit, I’m grateful for your wise perspective and advice. I’m looking forward to changing our development focus from getting money to helping develop fully mature followers of Christ.

    Thank you for making the time to share your thoughts!

    • EFoley says:

      Welcome to the TG tribe, Warren! I enjoyed reading the bio of you on the USC website. Hang out and post up often. This is a fun and safe place to be and to learn.

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