I promised a few weeks ago to do a review of the Ablaze grants in the Northern Illinois District. I hope to do that in my next few posts.
There are some good things being done with Ablaze funds and we will highlight those but overall we think that Ablaze is not a helpful program for the church. Our parish lay delegate to the Northern Illinois District (NID) convention sat and listened for a while to the details of the Ablaze program and then figured out this dreadful scenario.
The synod historically has been funded by congregations passing on money to the district who then passes it on to the synod. These donations were then allocated to programs via the transparent process of district conventions and synodical conventions. The people of the LCMS had a say in how these funds were spent. These donations have tanked severely in the last generation. Ablaze takes donations directly from LCMS members rather than going through the traditional congregation-district-synod funnel. Ablaze money now gets allocated directly by district and synod bureaucrats. These bureaucrats are able to allocate the funds on new mission starts that reject traditional Lutheran worship. These bureaucrats are also able to allocate these funds on silly programs that may not have made it through the normal synodical vetting process. In the NID we have recently given grants to a comfort dog “ministry” and to aid Christian conversations on college campuses. (I did not realize that we needed grants and programs to get Christians to talk about Jesus on campus.)
Is this analysis of the flow of Ablaze funds correct? Let me know what you think and if you have a better analysis of it.
Over the next few posts we will speak in specifics about the good and bad ways Ablaze funds are being spent in the NID. For now consider this more general analysis of Ablaze that has been making its way around the internet and we thought was worth a few minutes of your time. Be sure to pass this on to your LCMS friends and family members so they can have the opportunity to test whether or not Ablaze is an effective church program.
ABLAZE! IS NOT WORKING
NEGATIVE GROWTH RATE
Claiming to be the greatest mission outreach in LCMS history, the numbers tell a different story. In the first three years of Ablaze! for which we have records, the LCMS actually declined more than 25,000 members each year.
Four years into the Ablaze! campaign to reach 100 million people the LCMS has met less than 10 percent of its goal. And that’s with new, lower standards for counting, including measuring children at Lutheran day schools.
Fan Into Flame! – the Ablaze! campaign to raise $100 million by 2010 – had raised only $14.9 million in cash by the end of fiscal 2008. But fundraising costs totaled over $10 million, meaning that the entire campaign has cleared less than $5 million – in four years!
Of the $10 million in fundraising costs, a whopping $5.3 million was spent on fundraising consultants in the last three years alone. This despite the fact that Fan Into Flame! has its own large staff and fundraisers at LCMS headquarters.
Domestic Ablaze! funds have been given to dozens of churches that hide their Lutheran identity – not even including the word Lutheran in their name. One Ablaze!-funded church ran a sermon series during Lent on the topic of improving your sex life. Another ran billboards purporting to come from Satan with the phrase “Jefferson Hills Church Sucks.” One district gave Ablaze! Funds to start a Cub Scout troop, even though no religious outreach can take place in troop meetings. Ablaze! funds have even gone to churches that have been denied membership in Synod for failing to meet basic standards.
MISSIONS IN PRECIPITOUS DECLINE
A top-heavy ratio of over two St. Louis bureaucrats for every one missionary in the field. As of August 2008, the LCMS has only 29 pastors serving as foreign missionaries and 67 World Mission staff members sitting in St. Louis headquarters. The number of bureaucrats in St. Louis has more than doubled since Ablaze! began while the number of career missionaries has declined.
Pastors who serve as foreign missionaries are required to raise some 85 percent of their own expenses. In some cases this amounts to more than $100,000 each year – a difficult feat while serving remote lands. The LCMS only picks up 15 percent of the costs. New missionaries now have to collect 100 percent of their operating expenses.
Overhead for LCMS World Mission is reported to range as high as 65 percent, depending on the mission field. According to the Better Business Bureau, a charity should spend no more than 35% on fundraising.
Synod priorities and resources are skewed. While the number of actual pastors to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in the field declines, the number of laypeople sent on week-long “missionary tourism” trips has skyrocketed to over 500 each year.