The Problem With Children in Need
It is easy to get cynical about Children in Need, the annual event where the nation’s right hands go on national television to declare to their left hands exactly what they have been doing. However, it would be wrong to be too cynical, generosity is a good thing and the amounts that are raised to support various causes are staggering. That being said, there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the whole process and I’d like to focus in on one of them.
Having worked in the charity sector (albeit, in a very specialised area), I am aware of how difficult it is for charities to get their voice heard and to make a case for their need for support. This is particularly difficult when a behemoth like Children in Need dominates the airwaves for weeks at a time. The thing is, there are lots of great organisations out there doing good stuff, from local organisations supporting vulnerable adults to national groups such as the Lifeboats. All of these organisations are worthy of support, but none of them has access to the massive publicity resources of Children in Need.
I want to encourage people to give to charity, but I think that giving should be done in a thought-through, committed manner. People should give because they believe in a cause, not because a well-groomed TV presenter has sung karaoke for 24 hours (well done Rylan!).
Now I am aware, that Children in Need does raise lots of money that probably wouldn’t otherwise go to charities and I don’t want to knock it too much. However, it is indisputable that, in some ways, it completely distorts the charity market.
What has that got to do with Christian mission?
Well, at the risk of upsetting some people, I think that we see something very similar in the mission world. There are a small number of organisations with massive advertising budgets which dominate the Christian scene. These are the ones whose flyers drop on the floor when you open your latest Christian magazine, who sponsor the urinals at Christian conferences (I kid thee not) and who fly Christian celebrities around the world to film dramatic videos in the same way that Children in Need do. These organisations spend huge amounts of money on publicity and as a result, receive lots of donations, which allows them to spend huge amounts of money…
Now, I’m not criticising these large charities, they are doing what charities do. That’s the way the system works (whether it should work that way, is a question for another day). My concern is rather that a narrative has been created where it seems normal that individuals and churches should commit to giving to these organisations, in the same way that Children in Need dominates the scene in the broader charity sector. I don’t think that Churches should feel obliged to support a particular charity just because everyone else does, or because the charity has its own “Sunday”.
Rather than defaulting to supporting the big names, churches should think through their mission and giving strategy from the ground up; prayerfully asking what it is that God wants them to be involved in and then seeking out organisations that can help them work in those areas. If that’s one of the bigger charities, great and if its one of the smaller ones, that’s fine too. One thing that should not be a factor in defining a church’s mission strategy is which mission agencies spend the most money on publicity.One thing that should not be a factor in defining a church's mission strategy is which mission agencies spend the most money on publicity. Click To Tweet
If you’d like further thoughts on what should shape a church mission strategy, you can find them here.
Once again, in closing, I want to insist that I’m not criticising other charities, including Children in Need, but I am appealing for people to think through how they give, rather than defaulting to one or two very public options.