Crowdfunded Church

Crowdfunding is becoming more and more popular. While it has been around for a good long time, it was only about ten years ago that crowdfunding began to catch the public’s eye. Now, companies and people are increasingly turning to platforms like Kickstarter instead of traditional publishers and investors to get their funding.

With crowdfunding, as its name suggests, funding comes directly from the “crowd”, or a large number of interested individuals. Instead of a company getting an initial investment from a small group of people who expect certain high returns and a level of direction over their investment, crowdfunding enables a company to say, “This is what we want to do–if you’d like to see it happen, we need your help.” Interested parties contribute to the cause, and when enough pledges are made, funding happens and the company builds their product. Those who donate have little say in what the final product will look like, but they don’t have to, since they wouldn’t have donated if they didn’t already like the product.

I love crowdfunding in my favorite entertainment genre: video games. My first experience with crowdfunding was Steve Grand’s spiritual successor to the Creatures artifical-life series, Grandroids. I’ve also supported Xing: The Land Beyond; The Big Blue, from the creator of Ecco the Dolphin (which unfortunately did not receive enough pledges to be funded); and the campaign that broke all crowdfunding records (and continues to do so), Star Citizen, from the creator of the Wing Commander series. I also cheered on two Myst-related projects: Unwritten: Adventures in the Age of Myst and Beyond; and Obduction, the latest offering the company behind Myst, Cyan Worlds, Inc.

It occurred to me that the congregation is somewhat like a crowdfunded venture. I can’t think of too many churches off the top of my head where the funding comes from an external source and the congregation gives to “recoup” the initial investment, like in the traditional investor model for a company. The church building is an exception (mortgages mortgages mortgages!), as is the congregation with an endowment fund so large that all of their financial needs are met by the interest payouts.

Instead, the members of the community give their money to support the ongoing work. They each give something, big or little, because the believe in the community and what ir provides. The congregation survives on donations from “the crowd”. The money for events, supplies, and salaries all comes from the community itself. This has its advantages and its disadvantages.

Advantage: There is a strong sense of ownership in the community. The life of the congregation and its financial capabilities rests in the hands of the community.
Disadvantage: All of the money is pooled and distributed by a central group within the community. While this works most of the time, the door is left open for abuse by those holding the purse strings.

Advantage: The community is not subject to pressures from an external source seeking to engage in Executive Meddling, people at the top who are disconnected from the life of the community making demands because it is their money.
Disadvantage: The community does this all on its own.

Advantage: The possibilities of the community are limited only by the capabilities of the community.
Disadvantage:
The possibilities of the community are limited by the capabilities of the community. A small, poorer community will have a much harder time.

Of course, money should be a small part of a community’s identity. It tends to become THE community identity, along with the mystical Membership Roster. Money runs our society, for good and for ill. Hopefully, the advantages of the community-based fundraising that is so important to the survival of the congregation outweighs the nasty disadvantages that can come with it.

Coming up next: Crowdsource Theology?

Featured image: “Exchange Money Conversion to Foreign Currency” by epSos.de is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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