Money and Missions: We Steal More than we Give

In the process of writing a chapter for a forthcoming book, I have come across a rather troubling statistic.  Here's the situation, or perhaps I'll ease you into it ...

1. In 1995, the International Journal of Missionary Research reported that the total amount of money embezzled globally from churches and Christian organization for the year totaled US$2 billion. (International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 1996)

2. By the year 2000, the total amount of donations misappropriated (i.e. stolen) had surged to US$13.2 billion. (IBMR, January 2000) 

2. By 2009, that figure had risen to US$27 billion and was reportedly growing at a rate of 5.77% annually.  (IBMR, January 2009)

3. The latest figures show that "ecclesiastical crime" has now surpassed US$37 billion.  (IBMR, January 2013)

By comparison, the same reports showed total foreign mission giving in 1995 at US$12 billion, 600% greater than ecclesiastical crime total.  By 2000, Christians were still spending the same amount on foreign mission (US$12 billion), but were by then embezzling a billion dollars more per year from their churches and organizations. In 2009, we gave US$25 billion to foreign missions and now we reportedly give about US$33 billion.  Forget the fact that this amounts to only about 0.09% of our total personal income (by the way, this percentage has remained flat since 1995), more startling is that this is fully US$4 billion less than the amount of money that we steal from donors!!!  To put it another way, while our giving to foreign missions has grown since 1995 by 275% (yay!), the amount we've burgled from ourselves has grown by a whopping 1,850% during that same period (boo!).

What that heck, people?!?! That's just really, really shameful. I'm pondering now how way back in 1818, some Christian leaders were convinced that we'd be able to complete the task of world evangelization within 20 years (Hall & Newell, The Conversion of the World, 1818).  A century later, Mott and the SVMers believed it was "entirely possible to fill the earth with the knowledge of Christ before the present generation passes away" (J.R. Mott, The Evangelization of the World in this Generation, 1902).  More recently so many thought that surely we'd be done by A.D. 2000 (or just a little beyond).  Here's what Ralph Winter wrote in 1989:

"It does not seem impossible for the evangelical congregations of the world to adopt by name all of the remaining unreached peoples by the end of 1991.  This, at least, is a good goal to shoot for.  Then, the agencies need to try to engage every group by the year 1995.  That means for missionaries to be at work, either on the spot or as non-residents.  As the world Christian movement gains momentum, every remaining unreached group becomes closer and closer to other groups where the gospel is already being preached . . . . There does not seem to be any overarching obstacle which would make it impossible for there to be a church for every people by the year 2000." (Winter, "Unreached Peoples: Recent Developments in the Concept", 1989)

It begs the question as to how much our thievery may be hindering our ability to faithfully carry out our God-given mission.  I mean we are certainly robbing God (i.e. not tithing), but then we are robbing his Church in the manner of Hophni and Phineas.  What indeed should we expect from the Lord in the face of this?

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Mal 3:8-10 ESV)

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest's servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, "Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw." And if the man said to him, "Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish," he would say, "No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force." Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. 
(1Sa 2:12-17 ESV)

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