Christian Charities with the Highest Administrative Costs

I ran across some interesting information on-line this morning, and I thought I’d share some of it with you.  The non-profit Charity Navigator web site tracks expenses via charities’ disclosure statements to the IRS to provide donors with an assessment of how well charities run themselves. A few Christian charities made their top 20 list of charities with the highest administrative costs.  Here are the three national Christian charities that made the list:

Gospel to the Unreached Millions (GUM) / Administrative expenses: 43.1%
Based in Houston, this evangelical ministry is one of the least efficient in translating donations into international programs designed to spread its spiritual message. With administrative expenses topping 43% and fund-raising expenses more than 38% of its total budget, GUM was able to disburse a mere 18% of incoming money to the targeted recipients of aid in its last reported fiscal year, 2006. Managing a budget of almost $1.5 million, GUM has a poor track record of directing that cash to its evangelical programs.

Changed Lives / Administrative expenses: 47.4%
Changed Lives is a Christian organization based in Tennessee whose message of Biblical values is broadcast streaming over the internet to followers around the world. Carried by speaker Ben Haden, who began his broadcasting career at NBC in 1967, Changed Lives features video lectures on a number of spiritual topics and distributes Bibles and other religious literature for free to its supporters. While the organization’s revenues have increased over the last three reported years, its overhead has more than kept pace, pushing administrative expenses to over 47 percent of the group’s 2008 budget of around $790,000.

American Tract Society / Administrative expenses: 68.0%
Topping the list of America’s worst charities is an organization that spent more than $1.6 million dollars on its administrative expenses in 2007, over twice what it spent the previous year. The American Tract Society, based in Texas, distributes religious literature to spread its message around the world. With a history of low ratings from Charity Navigator, the group’s administrative expenses have consistently outpaced the amount of donations coming in. While the group receives income from other sources than contributions, donors to the American Tract Society may be surprised to know that the recipient is the most inefficient in the country at maximizing the impact of its donations.

Obviously, this research does not speak to the effectiveness of these charities at accomplishing their stated goals, but it does lend insight into how each one spends the money that they collect from their donors.

The Intangible Wave of Church Growth

Finally someone of his stature is willing to say what many in his same position won’t.  Tim Keller is the pastor of a large and fast-growing church located in New York City.  Redeemer Presbyterian Church was founded in 1989 and has since grown to a congregation of 4,500 people.  Christianity Today has called Redeemer, “one of Manhattan’s most vital congregations.”  And through its church planting center, Redeemer has helped start over 100 smaller churches in the New York City metropolitan area. In a 2006 survey of 2,000 American church leaders, Redeemer was named the #16 most influential church in America.  Only 21 years old, Redeemer has become a large, vibrant, growing, and influential church.

This, however, is not the norm.  Most churches in America are much smaller.  As a matter of fact, the average church size in the U.S. is about 100 people.  There are pastors who have faithfully served congregations for 20, 30, even 40 years and have never experienced the kind of growth that Tim Keller has seen at his church in New York.  Granted, it’s New York, but Keller was recently interviewed in World Magazine, and he said something about this amazing growth that resonated with me…and hopefully will resonate with other pastors who are faithfully leading congregations and not seeing the type of growth he has.  Here’s what he said…

We paddled out on our board and a wave came in.  You can do all the same paddling and standing and then if the wave does not come in there is no surfing.  We could have easily come here, done everything that we have done, and have very, very little to show for it.  I know other people who have been every bit as faithful, if not more faithful than me, and do not have anything like the same amount of success.  I do not look at myself as being more effective than them, but I am more successful and therefore blessed, for only reasons that God in His sovereignty would know.

I’m a pastor of a church that regardless of what I and the other leaders are doing, we are not currently seeing any significant numerical growth.  New people come through the front doors, but just as many go out through the back.  We seem to have plateaued, and most of the time, I’m OK with this.  But, there are times when I read about other church growth stories or remember the first church I served at where we went from 300 to 1000 in the course of two years, I begin to wonder what’s wrong with me.  Does a lack of significant numerical growth mean that I’m doing something wrong?  If I were more faithful, more dynamic, more relational, cooler, deeper, better looking (etc), would I then see the church I’m serving grow?  Church growth “experts” might say so, but I will now throw what Tim Keller says into the mix of voices I listen to about church growth.

There definitely is the intangible “wave” that must come in if a church is going to see growth.  At my first church in Dayton, OH we did many of the things then that I’m doing now, and for whatever reason, the church exploded.  On some Sundays, we’d see 40-50 new people, and these people ended up staying.  The church grew so fast that our staff meetings each week were spent just trying to put names with faces.  There were just three of us on staff, and we could barely keep our heads above the water.  It was both exciting and overwhelming.  The wave had come in, but after peaking at 1000 people in the mid 90’s, the church is now back to about 400 people.  The wave has hit elsewhere, and other churches in town are now experiencing massive growth.

So, I’m a pastor of a church of 300 people today, and I love it.  It’s been this number for quite a few years, and most of the time, I don’t worry about numbers.  I love the people God has brought to our fellowship, and I’m honored to serve them as their pastor.  Occasionally though, I get hung up on our lack of explosive growth, but it’s usually only when I begin comparing my church to other bigger, exploding churches or when I read an “expert’s” critical take on why churches like mine aren’t growing.

Tim Keller’s words are encouraging to me.  He’s a man overseeing a church that is experiencing explosive growth, yet he’s willing to say what many in his position won’t say: he’s seeing massive growth right now because the wave has come in for him.  May he remain faithful to the Lord as his church grows in the same way that pastors like me remain faithful when the waters of growth are calm.

Satan: The Church’s New Poster Child

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And they were hanging up hokey signs around town signed by Satan himself. Acts 2 (sort of)

A North Carolina church wants people to come to their new church plant, and they’ve enlisted the help of Satan.  The Bridge Church is a Pentecostal Holiness Church that is using Satan to drive their advertising campaign consisting of signs and door hangers.

Are You Praying Regularly for Your Kids?

Tom Bishop is a man who is passionate about prayer. He’s the author of several self-published booklets on prayer including the book, Praying Down the Path of Your Child’s Life. He believes that prayer is the most powerful tool by far in a parents arsenal. Here is what he told me a while back about about the importance of praying regularly for our kids.

All teenagers are going to go through crisis, problems, and all the stuff the world and the devil will throw at them. I think the difference is that those that are being prayed for survive and come out the other side. Those who aren’t being prayed for are in most cases the casualties. It’s really crucial that those we love the most are prayed for. In James, he says we don’t have because we don’t ask.

Do you want them to have the right friends? Ask for them. Do you want them to have godly instruction, godly counselors, and godly professors? Ask. Do you want them to connect up with the right mate? Ask.

God has a desired plan, but He doesn’t do things until His people ask Him. When it sunk into my head that God waits until His people pray before He moves, I decided that I didn’t want to miss out on all the things He has for me and my family. I vowed to start asking then and there!

Prayer is hard work. The devil fights it, and we don’t often see immediate results or get the immediate gratification we’ve been trained to expect. You have to spend time, you have to hear from God, you have to tie it to His Word, and you have to pray in faith.

Out of that process, He eventually gets us praying the things that He wants. It is then that we really connect with Him; it just takes quality time. It happens best when we set aside a time and place and really cry out to God.

Over the years, I have used some of Tom’s books to help me with my prayer life.  They can all be downloaded for free by clicking here.

Are You Parenting Scared?

Christian parents today are afraid. They’re afraid that the pressures of the culture will overwhelm their kids and cause them to walk away from the values and the faith that they’re desperately trying to pass on to them. Because of this, many parents are parenting out of fear.  Fear of losing their kids to the culture, and fear of what other Christian parents may think.  I used to parent this way, but with some pretty painful parenting days under my belt (and lots of good ones too), I’m trying to change that.

Dr. Tim Kimmel’s Grace-Based Parenting is one of the most influential books I’ve read on parenting.  His premise is that parents need to create a grace-based home environment and parent their children the same way God parents them.  Since first picking the book up 5 years ago, I’ve read it twice, taught a class on it, and interviewed him for a radio show I used to host.

Here’s a small portion of that interview.  I found his words to be most helpful in my parenting, and hopefully you will too.

When I generalize a lot of parenting models, one thing that I often see in Christian homes is fear. I see a lot of fear-based parenting. The average parent that is steeped in fear-based parenting would be the last one to admit it, but fear is exactly what drives the decisions they make. They see the world system and how wicked it is, and they see Satan and how sinister he is, and then they see their kids and how vulnerable they are. Based on those three factors, they make their strategy for parenting based on fear.

However, there’s one thing that trumps all three of those fears and that is the fact that God is mighty. God is awesome, and when our focus is on Him and we let Him set the agenda, it often changes the way we go about what we do. We don’t hide as much. There is also evangelical behavior modification and I see this a lot; it’s where we’re trying to get the kids to act a certain way, know certain things, and look a certain way.

Our job isn’t to get our kids to behave right, our job is to get their character right. In fact, we don’t need to worry about their behavior so much; when you get their character right, the right behavior will follow. You can get a kid behaving right, but their heart may not be where it needs to be.

There is a lot of image-control parenting where parents are basically trying to meet a standard set by the people around them. Parents want their kids to do certain things, say certain things, and act a certain way so that they look good.

Then there’s also high-control parenting where parents leverage the strength of their personalities against their children’s weaknesses in order to get them to meet their selfish agendas, which is often the parents’ own insecurities.

The balance between throwing our kids to the wolves and hiding them from the world is grace-based parenting. The problem is that many of the systems that we have created to protect our children actually substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They actually negate the kid’s need for the Bible. It doesn’t mean they don’t learn the Bible and know it, they just don’t need the Bible. This creates a spiritual anemia; it’s what happens when you preoccupy yourself with raising a safe kid. I think a lot of parents have that as their main goal; they want to raise a safe Christian kid.