"Connectors" for support raising A new, more biblically collaborative paradigm of raising and maintaining financial support for missionaries

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“Connectors” for missionaries:

Toward a new paradigm of missionary support-raising and maintenance

Stan Nussbaum

 

Raising and maintaining support are twin problems that loom large in the minds of many missionaries, and the challenge is not getting any easier. For example, many missionaries who used to be supported by a central fund of their denomination are having to raise some or all of their support personally now. Meanwhile Sunday night services—prime time for missionary presentations—have mostly ceased and platform time has become increasingly difficult to find. Short-term missions have absorbed a lot of the congregation’s attention and funding. A new generation of givers presents new challenges for the content and style of mission presentations. A few voices are saying that the day of American missionaries is over and that now America should only send money not people.

In the midst of this swirl of challenges, I want to propose for discussion and experimentation a model that intends to achieve several things in ways that are more appropriate for our times and more in tune with biblical precedents than the individualistic model which has become standard. Here are five of the goals:

  1. Get more missionaries onto the field sooner
  2. Create new hands-on roles for a few church members who are not missionaries and never will be 
  3. Change the ordinary church members’ view of missionary presentations and communications
  4. Develop missionaries as team players
  5. Free the missionaries to concentrate more on spiritual ministry and less on fundraising

Proposal – The “connector”[1] model of mission support

The idea of connectors for missionaries already exists in various forms, of course. For example, it is common for a missionary to ask a friend to host a home meeting, inviting other friends to hear about the missionary’s work. It is also common for missionaries to form a prayer team and to ask members of that team to connect them with other people who are potential supporters.[2]

The proposed “connector” model differs from most current practices in that it centers on two unusual voluntary commitments. The “connectors” prayerfully accept the responsibility to:

  1. Raise an agreed share of a first-term missionary’s support (typically 5%-10%) by connecting him/her to people he/she probably would not otherwise connect with.
  2. For a missionary on the field, find new donors to replace any support that dwindles.

The question for connectors is not just, “How much will I commit to give?” It is, “How much will I commit to raise?” This shift in thinking fundamentally changes the whole process of mission support raising because the missionary is no longer alone as the bearer of the responsibility.

Each connector is in effect saying to the missionary,

“You work on your share of the fundraising and relax about my share. I will keep working on it until the Lord provides it through connections I make for you. Once you are on the field, let us know whenever you hear that you have lost some of your support. If you keep feeding us information about your ministry, we will do our best to find replacement support so that when you come home on leave, you do not have to raise a single dollar. You will be free to concentrate on reporting what God is doing, reconnecting with friends, and getting rejuvenated personally.”

Each connector is saying to potential supporters,

“I’m not called to be a missionary, but my friend is, and I believe I am called to share in raising his support. So in obedience to that call, I am inviting people to connect with him as supporters. My goal, not counting what I give personally, is X $ per month. So far, my connections have committed to give Y $ per month. Will you consider getting connected with my friend and providing some of that?”

In this way, the support circle broadens to include friends of friends. There are two “calls to mission involvement”—the missionary’s and the connector’s—and the donor would be supporting them both. That fundamentally changes the situation for many potential donors.

The connectors, operating as a team, would meet once a month or so for prayer and mutual encouragement. Together the team can learn, grow, minister, and enjoy watching God work. This sort of positive accountability reduces the floundering, time wasting, and discouragement that are all too common when the missionary is bearing the support-raising responsibility alone. The missionary relates to the connectors as co-workers not as to a “support-raising coach” or supervisor.

Any version of the model would help the missionary a great deal because it would put a dent in the “last 40%” or the “last 20%” which accounts for 80% or 90% of the initial delay a missionary experiences and the catch-up fundraising that has to be done during home leaves.

Practicalities and possible scenarios

One of the most practical aspects of the proposal is that in most cases missionaries can initiate it as a personal strategy even before (or without) their agency or home church needing to make any policy change. They can experiment with it in a very small way (just one or two connectors to start with), and it will not interfere with any other methods they are already using.

They can also take advantage of the model’s flexibility. A missionary would ordinarily recruit two to four connectors (or collaborators). Here are some possible permutations.

 

 

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Home church

20%

10%

30%

Missionary

50%

60%

30%

Connector 1

15%

10%

10%

Connector 2

10%

10%

10%

Connector 3

5%

5%

10%

Connector 4 

--

5%

10%

If connectors prefer, they could set a joint goal for themselves instead of an individual goal for each of them.

Advantages of the connector model over the individualistic model

  1. Getting missionaries on the field sooner. It is accepted as normal for missionaries to spend a year or more raising their support to go overseas. Why? We can do better. After spending several years in training, primarily at their own expense, why should they postpone their departure?
  2. Creating hands-on opportunities for non-missionaries. Many members of the Body of Christ will correctly say, “I could never learn another language. I could never adjust to another culture. I could never be a good missionary.” The best reply may be, “Good, then don’t. But I’ve got a golden opportunity for you to make a difference in missions while you are speaking English, living American, and keeping your day job. Using the gifts God has given you and the connections you have developed, you could step up and help Jason and Kathy raise the support they need to do all those things you could never do.”  
  3. Giving the right impression. Paul was extremely careful not to give the wrong impression about fundraising even when the funds were not for him or his ministry. His rule was for people to set money aside weekly so there would be  “No collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). By contrast, the current model of support raising easily creates the impression that missionaries are all about money. Fundraising very largely defines who gets to go as a missionary and when they go. On home leave they scramble to build their support level back up. The connector model prevents the scramble and thus helps create the right impression—the bottom line for missionaries is not money.
  4. Developing missionaries as team players. (Eph. 4:16)  Since the process of support raising may be the most intense pre-field life-ministry experience a missionary has, why not capitalize on its potential to shape the missionary as a team player instead of a “rugged individualist”? At the commissioning service, let the missionary stand and say, “I am so thankful to God to be at this point, and I honestly don’t know how I would ever have got here without the help of these friends who were my connectors.” Under the current model, if missionaries raise enough support to get to go to the field, the experience reinforces the impression that the victory was won by them, personal determination, and God. And if they fail to raise enough to go to the field, they blame themselves.
  5. Freeing up the missionaries’ minds and hearts. While it is true that the process of support raising (or “support team discovery”) may involve some spiritual ministry to the donors, it is also true that support raising can become an entanglement, consuming a great deal of the missionary’s time, energy, and prayer. This is the kind of money-related, hassle-fraught activity that the apostles deliberately insulated themselves from by appointing deacons in Acts 6 to manage the food distribution program.  If we are going to send people out as “apostles” (missionaries doing spiritual ministry), why are we ourselves using a support-raising system that has so much potential for entangling them? Let’s insulate them a little and free them to concentrate like the apostles on “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Can connectors be found?

A fine-sounding proposal is obviously useless if no one can be found who feels called to step up and do it. I have talked informally to several people at my church about this idea and am encouraged by the level of interest even though I have not signed anyone up yet as my “connector.”

My next step, hopefully by mid-July, is to call a meeting of all the potential “connectors” my friends and I can identify in our congregation, then present the concept, ask who is interested and which missionary they are interested in. This approach will allow me to get going with the idea without stealing the best “connectors” from other missionaries from our church who are raising support more urgently than I am (a couple on leave from Europe whose support has dwindled, a man about to leave for a new field in East Asia, and a new couple with MAF).

One thing that seems to work with natural or professional salespeople I have approached is this question, “Would your sales department ever hire missionary X to sell for them?” When they realize the answer is, “No way,” they also realize it would make sense for them to step up and put their own skills and experience to use on behalf of the missionary who has never done this before, perhaps also helping coach or organize the missionary in his/her share of the work.

Another question that can be asked to potential connectors is, “Do you know any people who will probably never connect with missionary X unless you connect them?” Obviously yes. This gets the person thinking specifically about the people he/she would talk to as a connector. If the Lord excites the person about those possibilities, he/she may agree to take on the responsibility of a connector.

It is too early to tell what percentage of connectors will turn out to be “naturals” (outgoing, talkative, persuasive people) and what percentage will be people who are not so naturally gifted in these areas. Those who are not naturals will be tempted to use the common excuses:

  1. This isn’t me.
  2. I wouldn’t be any good at it.
  3. I wouldn’t know where to begin.

However, some of them may realize that the fundraising challenge is no more natural to the missionary than it is to them. In obedience to the Lord’s nudging, they may step a little outside their comfort zone to help a missionary who may already be way outside his or her comfort zone. They take some risks, develop some new skills, pray, and discover to their delight and amazement that God sometimes uses the weak to confound the strong. He can do through them what they could never do on their own.

It is recommended that the connectors not be wealthy enough to cover their agreed share personally, which they might be tempted to do if they are the last connector to hit his/her target. Instead, the other connectors who have already raised their share can come alongside the one who has not, and the team can push to the finish line together.

Bottom line

This whole proposal is a matter of love, that is, simply caring about another member of the body who is in a tough spot. For the typical missionary, the challenge of support raising remains a massive, onerous, never-ending burden, no matter how hard their missionary agency tries to get them to see it as an opportunity for spiritual growth and for ministry to the donors. Some never get to the field. Many live with chronic support shortages of 10% or more.

In proposing this model, I am betting on the love of the friends of the missionaries. The model will not create that love but if the love is already there, the model creates a new way to express it and deepen it. If in love we bear one another’s burdens, we will do a much quicker and better job of sending missionaries on their way “in a manner worthy of God.” (3 Jn. 6) 



[1] Suggestions are still welcome for a better term than “connector.” “Collaborator” is currently a distant 2nd. “Assistant” is another possibility. “Reps” sounds too commercial. “Advocate” was used in the previous version but some people were interpreting it to mean that the missionary would have little or nothing to do with the work of the “advocate” and the donors would never develop any sense of closeness to the missionary. “Deacon” was used in a much earlier draft but was ruled out (it is technically correct in the sense of Acts 6 but misleading in light of the ordinary usage of the term).

[2] I would love to hear of other similar models already in use. The closest thing I have found so far is the model of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, sketched in a short booklet, “Missionary Support Teams,” at www.emm.org/mst-tabs. That model encompasses the whole range of support needs of a missionary (prayer, communications, finance, etc.), assigning one point person for each type of need. Besides the Eastern Mennonite model, I have also discovered one Nigerian friend who personally used this “connector” approach several years ago to raise his missionary support in Nigeria with the help of a handful of college buddies who had gone into business.

Comments:

Posted by Steve Nelson on
Thanks Stan for your work on this. Tremendous potential and joyful possibilities in this concept. I'm excited to see it catch on in our our churches and across the globe. It presents a "back to the bible basics" concept that has escaped the modern, evangelical churches lately. I will join you in prayer that God use this concept among Kingdom builder - thinkers. This affects eternity and that should be our goal.
Posted by Konni Logan on
Tender Care is a book put out by Barnabas (2012). Chapter 23 is about developing a "Barnabas Team" at your local church. They use the term "Barnabas" to describe the kind of relationship that you have talked about here in your article. I love your article! And you are SO right; things have changed A LOT in the American church when it comes to fund raising. Thank you for this insightful article, Stan. Thanks for keeping us up to date. Lovingly, Konni Logan, for Tommy too.
Posted by Stan on
Steve,
If you decide to test-drive the model as you raise your own support to go back to Africa, put a note here once in a while to share your experience. If it's as biblical as you say, it should work out in practice.

Konni,
I'm debating whether to get a copy of Tender Care or not. Depends how much it overlaps with the "connectors" idea. I see it is available on the Barnabas site, https://www.barnabas.org/book.php Does chapter 23 describe a model where one or more people take responsibility for helping raise a specified share of the missionary's support, or is it only the more general idea that a person or group would agree to assist the missionary in the support-raising process?

The latter idea sounds like the “Missionary Support Teams” idea I noted in the article (www.emm.org/mst-tabs). It's close to my idea and yet I think I'm taking a definite step beyond it. How much difference do you see? Or do you recommend I get a copy and check it out for myself?
Posted by Konni Logan on
Hey Stan,
I misled you; the book was actually published in 2010, not 2012! Anyway, I think Tender Care is a good read, esp. ch. 23 bc it describes the Barnabas Model of Care: Care, Prayer, Share, There, and Aware. Each category covers the needs of the missio (under Care: emotional, under Prayer: prayer, under Share: financial, under There: someone on the team visits the missio on the field, and under Aware: a long term relationship bet the missio and the church.

I think you should get it. It's a good read. I love the whole metaphor of the Tender (the person who is in the boat, taking care of the scuba diver who is under the water and comparing that to the Barnabas Team who is at home caring for the missio on the field. I love the whole relationship of the Tender and the diver/the Barnabas Team/missio. In fact, I have been planning on teaching this Model of Care to the missios back at Ukarumpa when we return next month, so that they can begin to have a Barnabas Team in place while they are serving (and thrivign) on the field.

I do, however, really like what you have presented here in your article! And this morning I read in I Corin. 16 the part where Paul had told the church to put some money aside each week out of their surplus, so that when he would come a bit later, the money would already be collected for him. I agree with you. We have it backwards here in the American Church. I like the Biblical approach better!

The connector model is more in line with a collectivist point of view as opposed to an individualist world view. I wonder if all those years in Africa have rubbed off on you!! ;o)

Also, "hello" to Steve Nelson! Is this the Steve Nelson married to Cathy that we went to SIL with in Dallas all those years ago? ! (smile)

Grace and peace,
Konni, and for Tommy too
Posted by Konni Logan on
Hey Stan,
I misled you; the book was actually published in 2010, not 2012! Anyway, I think Tender Care is a good read, esp. ch. 23 bc it describes the Barnabas Model of Care: Care, Prayer, Share, There, and Aware. Each category covers the needs of the missio (under Care: emotional, under Prayer: prayer, under Share: financial, under There: someone on the team visits the missio on the field, and under Aware: a long term relationship bet the missio and the church.

I think you should get it. It's a good read. I love the whole metaphor of the Tender (the person who is in the boat, taking care of the scuba diver who is under the water and comparing that to the Barnabas Team who is at home caring for the missio on the field. I love the whole relationship of the Tender and the diver/the Barnabas Team/missio. In fact, I have been planning on teaching this Model of Care to the missios back at Ukarumpa when we return next month, so that they can begin to have a Barnabas Team in place while they are serving (and thrivign) on the field.

I do, however, really like what you have presented here in your article! And this morning I read in I Corin. 16 the part where Paul had told the church to put some money aside each week out of their surplus, so that when he would come a bit later, the money would already be collected for him. I agree with you. We have it backwards here in the American Church. I like the Biblical approach better!

The connector model is more in line with a collectivist point of view as opposed to an individualist world view. I wonder if all those years in Africa have rubbed off on you!! ;o)

Also, "hello" to Steve Nelson! Is this the Steve Nelson married to Cathy that we went to SIL with in Dallas all those years ago? ! (smile)

Grace and peace,
Konni, and for Tommy too
Posted by Stan on
Konni,

OK, I'm getting a copy of Tender Care.

I've heard from another missionary friend that the exchange rate is down and prices are up at Ukarumpa, putting lots of pressure on the missionaries there right now. Should be a lot of open ears for a "connectors" approach or any other new ways to tackle the problem.

As for "collectivist," it isn't that Africa rubbed off on me but that the Africans helped me recognize what was there in Scripture the whole time. It's less collectivist than Africa and less individualist than America.

Sorry, it's a different Steve Nelson than you describe.
Posted by Doug and Cristi Schaffnit on
Hi Stan,
We read through your prayer letter from July-tonite.
Doug and I just returned from SE Asia Friday-
Bell people survey trip/Steve Gifford/Doug & Jen Witzig
We sat with a veteran TEAM missionary couple(20 yrs in Hong
Kong) had the discussion @ the dying fundraising
Model- heard their frustration
Your connectors' model makes so
much sense.
As a businessman & wife, we understand
how to make those contacts/
We make a list of who we know w/resources
We Pray over the list
We Make the phone calls /make the presentations
(we have just seen it in Asia 1st hand)
We have the motivation/we saw the need
We want to be involved
We have the momentum & energy & skills to make
The connections
We continue to lead the Witzig prayer group
But we have used our skill set to commit financially
In a greater more collaborative way
The Witzig's then are freed up to do what they do well
& how God has equipped them the best
Thanks for sharing the model- Cristi Schaffnit
Posted by Cristi Schaffnit on
Thanks!
Posted by Stan on
Cristi,
Great to hear you and Doug are willing to look at your role in a new way, and just at a time when the Witzigs' situation has changed and they really need some help in this department. We were just looking at the needs in the Grace mission board meeting last night.

I'm curious whether you and Doug literally decided on a specific percentage you would help them raise or you just took on the general role of "connectors" without choosing a specific target.

I'm asking because I'm trying to refine the model so it can catch on and do more good. The act of a connector choosing a specific target percentage is the one point that I thought at the beginning would be the key to the whole idea, but as we go along, I'm finding that people like various other bits and pieces of the idea but balk at that one. I feel like I'm missing something. If I hear more about how you decided whether or not to commit to a specific percentage, maybe I can understand the issue better.

Either way, the main point is that you are helping the Witzigs more because you have a new perspective on your own role. Theories come and go (and some of us will keep working on them), but loving practice is what matters.

Stan
Posted by Jennifer West on
Hi Stan,

We are missionaries trying to raise support to do ministry in Europe and hope to deploy in 2016. I love this article and see so much potential, but I'm wondering if since 2013 (almost 2 years since the last post) if you still prescribe to this way of support raising and what your final conclusion was.

Thanks!
Jennifer
Posted by Stan on
Jennifer,

In the two silent years, I have done some additional work on my own but have kept running into the same sticking point with potential "connectors". I still believe the theory is right, but it may not be fruitful if we cannot find a way past this point.

A key part of the proposed model, distinguishing it from other models, is that the connector states a percentage or a dollar amount that he/she/they accept responsibility to raise. The connectors I have talked to always assume that "accepting responsibility" means "If I can't raise it from others, I guarantee to give that amount myself." They still assume that even when I say that is NOT what the model expects or intends. They therefore refuse to state any number at all, and the theory never gets put into practice.

FYI, my unsuccessful attempt to explain "accepting responsibility" goes like this: "When I commit to raise 5% of your support (or whatever percentage), I am committing to keep praying and working until one of three things happens:
1) the 5% is raised
2) my 5% is no longer needed because the support has come from elsewhere
3) my 5% is not needed because we all agree that the missionary should not go.

None of the three involve me personally contributing the money because I could not raise it elsewhere. In the case of point 3, I am not "letting the missionary down" any more than the missionary is "letting himself down." I do not quit until he/she quits.

In my experience, this explanation makes sense to missionaries but not to potential connectors. Your experience may be different. Either way, please post something about what you decide to do and what results you see from it. Thanks.
Posted by Jennifer on
Thank you for your reply Stan. We will be meeting with our mission pastor this week and I plan to get his opinion. We'll be asking him: Does he think we can incorporate the idea of connectors with the people at our church? Has anyone tried anything like this before? What was the result? It seems that most people have such an aversion to fundraising that finding a connector would be difficult. Although, if it's an idea we can put before the Lord and He brings individuals into our lives that are excited with the idea, then why not at least ask if they'd be willing to do it?

What we are also finding in this crazy journey is that more people will give if they KNOW us. Having a face to face relationship makes a huge difference. So, we'll see how it goes and I'll let you know the type of responses I get. In theory, your model would be a dream come true. Hopefully, the conclusion will be a fulfillment of that dream. :) Thanks again.
Posted by stan on
Jennifer, remember that from a biblical perspective, people's widespread aversion to doing fundraising is an argument FOR finding connectors instead of an argument against it. My impression is that mission agency staff who train missionaries to raise funds generally try to convince them that it is NOT a burden. (For example, it is "a ministry to your donors," or a "discovery of your support team".) If you look at it positively, you will be more able to carry it alone.

The "connectors" concept as I have sketched it starts from the opposite perspective. Instead of putting a positive spin on the activity of raising support, it assumes that fundraising IS a burden. Since it is, the friends of missionaries cannot allow them to bear this huge burden alone. It isn't right. "Bear one another's burdens." Step up and help.

So if a particular person who is asked to be a connector says, "I'm totally not comfortable with that," the missionary's response is, "Neither am I, and that's why I'm asking you to be my connector. Will you help me carry this heavy burden?"

I'm glad you brought up the additional point about "KNOWING" the missionary personally. That is the other thing (besides having to give personally any money a connector fails to raise from others) that I have not been able to communicate so far in my description of the "connector" concept. People assume that the connector works independently of the missionary, so much so that the missionary might not even meet the donors whom a connector lines up.

That is not my intent. I assume that the missionary WILL need to meet most donors personally. When I say that a connector commits to "raise 5% of the missionary's support," I mean that donors identified and contacted by that connector will eventually provide 5% of the support.

I don't care whether it is the connector or the missionary or the two together who are present when the donor makes an official commitment. My point is that the process starts with the connector, not the missionary, and the connector keeps working at it until his/her contacts produce the target amount of support or the missionary does not need it any more.
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