When Church Members Give Outside The Church

It is common for church members to give financial resources to ministries outside their own local church. These ministries can range from a local homeless shelter, to pregnancy care services, and global relief agencies. How should church leaders feel about this?

When church leaders hear about their church members giving sacrificially to these organizations, they often have mixed feelings for two reasons:

  1. Theologically, as much good as these ministries perform in their respective communities, Christ never entrusted them with the proclamation of the gospel or the administration of the sacraments. If we believe the church is central to God’s kingdom, then shouldn’t our resources be devoted to it?
  2. Financially, church leaders are fearful that the resources being funneled to nonprofits are funds that those same members would have otherwise donated to their church. It can feel like our congregants are shorting the offering plate.

At the PCA Foundation, we facilitate generosity for Christians to churches as well as their other favorite Christian ministries. As pastors have mixed feelings about their congregants’ giving, we encourage them to keep four things in mind:

#1 Celebrate their generosity

We should celebrate our church members’ generosity, even when our churches are not the direct beneficiary.

We should see sacrificial giving as a fruit of the Spirit’s work in our congregants’ lives. Generosity is part of the growth of Christ’s disciples. Like Paul rejoiced even when Christ was preached from selfish ambition, we should do the same when we see God’s people actively sharing the resources God has entrusted to them.

#2 Adopt an abundance mindset

It’s true: the church should be the first priority for their congregants’ charitable giving, and the PCA Foundation affirms this in various ways. In the PCA, members take a vow to support the work of the church to the best of their ability. It’s also true that church leaders can function with a scarcity mindset, especially when their churches operate on a tight budget.

But though resources are finite, God is not. Our church budgets never suffer from irreparable harm. God provides through people and ways unexpected. We need not live with a spirit of fear when it comes to His care for the church. Rather, we should pray and preach, expecting God to provide in amounts and means we had not considered.

#3 Remember, some members must give elsewhere

In almost every church, there are some members for whom it would be unwise to direct all their giving to their local church. Because of the size of their contributions, it would create an unhealthy dependency of the church upon them, as well as risk a mismatch of resources and needs. To avoid these, some will limit their giving to the local church so it never represents more than five to ten percent of their church’s overall budget.

This also happens when members experience an unexpected increase in their personal finances due to a bonus, inheritance, or sale of an appreciated asset. Though they likely will give a sizeable portion to their local church, they also will direct a portion elsewhere. Or at least, they will use the PCA Foundation so they can schedule their giving out to their local church over time instead of one lump sum.

Since a church member will give such an extraordinarily large gift to a foundation rather than his or her church, it is all the more important to direct them to the PCA Foundation, which is part of the church and as such is motivated more than non-church foundations to encourage gifts to the local church.

#4 Point them toward worthwhile ministries

If church members are going to donate resources elsewhere, it becomes important to introduce them to Christ-centered and kingdom-advancing ministries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many Christians in America gave to the work of orphanages. It was Christians who financed their growth across America and the British colonies and even in other parts of the world. The churches of this era often encouraged this sort of giving among their people.

Yes, Christ is building his church, and so we rightfully have her welfare and growth as our first interest. The love of Christ also calls for us to care for the poor, love our neighbors, and seek the welfare of people in our communities. Though our churches often are involved in such efforts directly or indirectly, they often are the focus of other nonprofit organizations that have developed particular expertise and capacity.

Christ providentially cares for the whole world while regarding the church as his own, peculiar people. In that same way, we should encourage our members to prioritize the work and worship of the church in their giving while also recognizing they can and often should extend their giving beyond its walls to other Christ-honoring causes.

The mission of the PCA Foundation is to provide charitable financial services to Christians, enabling them to carry out their stewardship responsibilities and charitable desires to financially support the Kingdom of Jesus Christ through the Presbyterian Church in America and other Christian ministries. To open a Donor-Advised Fund through the PCAF, visit https://pcafoundation.com/individuals/advise-consult-fund/.