Mission Initiative error is the least of our problems
The error was found and it has been corrected. Yes, it’s good not to incur such errors in the first place, but the system is sound that detects, announces, and fixes such inevitable mistakes.
That could be the end of the story, except for a larger story that is set up but never explored. The greater item of unspoken news is that the Mission Initiative continues to show discouragingly weak results.
At a point when the Mission Initiative ought to be really rolling, when it should be gliding toward the grand conclusion of a $40 million goal, it is falling far short. In the first three months of the year, the Mission Initiative managed to eke out only about $174,000 in new pledges or contributions.
That’s nationally. In three whole months. At the height--supposedly--of the campaign. While spending $81,000 on the effort.
To put that in perspective, my home congregation received $6.6 million in the first year of its own current capital/missions campaign. That’s at a rate nine times greater than the denomination's rate--more than $1.6 million every three months, compared to $174,000 for our 2.3-million-member denomination’s campaign.
At the denomination’s present rate of pledging and/or giving, it will take another 19.65 years to raise the remaining $13,668,193 required to conclude the campaign!
But it gets worse. Pledging, weak as it is, is running far ahead of actual giving. Between 2002 and March 31, 2007, a total of $4.5 million had been actually received at the national level.
At the same time, presbyteries and churches participating in the Mission Initiative had directly received another nearly $3.9 million. (A good part of that money might have been raised locally anyway for new church development, even if there had never been a national campaign.)
In total, the campaign thus claims roughly $8.4 million in actual receipts.
That means that in the first five years of the campaign, only about one-fifth of the $40 million goal has been received. At that rate it would take about 20 more years to reach the desired goal.
And it gets even worse. The costs of operating the campaign since 2002 have totaled $3,556,955. Thus, it has cost the denomination approximately 42 cents for every dollar raised thus far. In other words, for every $42 we spent to raise money, we grossed $100 and netted $58. So far, we have netted just over $4.8 million.
And now it gets sad. The whole campaign was fueled by dismay over budget cuts necessitating the termination of dozens of career missionaries in 2002. Earnest General Assembly commissioners bought the pitch for the $40 million campaign, which they were told would produce $20 million to fund more missionaries.
However, as of March 31, nearly five years later, only a little over $700,000 had been disbursed for mission personnel. Remember, in that same time frame, roughly $3.6 million was spent on the campaign. That means that so far we are behind about $2.9 million that might have been spent for missionaries but instead funded a passing parade of fund-raisers, travel and entertainment, literature, and other overhead.
That’s the truly sad part.
There is one mitigating factor, however: As of this point, another $17.8 million has been pledged but not given. Financial campaigns do have front-loaded costs. You spend a lot up front and then reap the benefits down the road. It takes money to make money.
But even the mitigating factor has a downside, unfortunately: Of the $17.8 million pledged but not paid, only about $1.4 million is earmarked for missionaries. Another $12.8 million will go to church growth, and $3.6 million in undesignated funds will probably be chewed up as overhead.
With a potential outlay to missionaries of only about $2.1 million ($700,000 already spent and another $1.4 million pledged), at this point we would be $1.5 million ahead in missions spending if we had simply spent the $3.6 million campaign overhead on missionaries instead of a campaign!
In October 2006, former Princeton Seminary President Tom Gillespie warned the General Assembly Council that the one imperative for institutional fund-raising is this: “Never ever have an unsuccessful campaign." Friends, it appears that despite the best efforts of some dedicated people, and despite the good intentions driving the Mission Initiative, we pretty much have an unsuccessful campaign on our hands at this point.
I often wonder why the Presbyterian News Service leaves unraised such obvious and major implications as this. Isn’t it time that someone with responsibility--say, the General Assembly Council--talks about this enormous rhinoceros in our living room?