Chapter Five: Beyond Us-Based Giving


(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)

“Look at most any promotional package for a mission trip and you will get the distinct impression that lost, starving, forsaken people have their last hope riding on the willingness of U.S. church groups to come and rescue them.”

The Christian Compassion Industry is a big business. The Federal Trade Commission is tasked with keeping businesses fair and free. But they don’t look at religious charity – and perhaps we need something that does.

Most of our trips are to places needing long-term development. Most of the short-term projects are crisis-type projects. These mission trips have value, but should be packaged as insight trips or exchange programs.

The Toxic Mission Report

Theme: what serves the interest of the church does not necessarily benefit those being served.

Churches look for Return on Investment, an increase in volunteerism, but don’t always track how effective that volunteerism is on the front lines. They might send a lot of people out to help with a project, and not consider covering the costs to the mission they are “helping”, the resources they devour to do their good.

Lupton asks:  “When a church makes decisions about serving others, are the ones being served the urban poor or the church?”

A Balanced Portfolio

In planning for retirement, we are counselled to have a balanced portfolio to protect from risk. It is a sort of mutual fund approach to investing. Individuals and churches tend to try the same thing with their charitable and missions giving. But to make a real difference in people’s lives requires a focused approach.  Entrepreneurs that start new businesses and create new jobs also buck the diversified approach and focus on something particular – their vision, their hope, their passion. Diversified is a big business investor approach. Diversified volunteerism increases number of church volunteers – activity not outcomes. Lupton says “to achieve measurable change in the lives of the poor and the communities they inhabit, focused, not diversified, investment is required.”


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