We’re continuing our miniseries examining six “Key” strategies…operating principles and approaches that provide a framework for our staff and volunteers when unexpected opportunities arise. Today, we’ll look at our practice of providing our training, consultation, resources and support to churches free of charge.
Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!
1 Corinthians 9:15-18 (MSG)
When Key Ministry was first established, our leadership group never sat down for any type of intentional discussion about charging for services. I guess we figured we’d just show up and train church staff and volunteers wherever we were invited. Money was never an object…or a consideration.
During our first year, I was in Nashville on a speaking trip when friends arranged for me to meet with the children’s ministry director of a very large church they attended. I was explaining what we do and the problems we hoped to help solve, but the non-verbals and the body language during the meeting weren’t very positive. About three quarters of the way through the meeting, the children’s director came out with the question…”What does this all cost?” My immediate answer (not having thought that anyone would ever ask the question) was “nothing.” The entire tone of the conversation shifted at that point, and I received my first lesson in the business side of children’s and family ministry. I had no idea how many vendors routinely approached pastors and church staff with products to sell, or the struggles children’s pastors, youth pastors and family ministry leaders face to serve lots of kids with very limited budgets.
Following that discussion, an unwritten policy more or less developed that Key Ministry would provide all of our training, consultation, resources and support to churches free of charge. Our reasoning behind the decision was…
- To remove money as a barrier to churches getting the help and the resources they needed to welcome kids with “hidden disabilities” (our terminology at the time) and their families. We were having a hard enough time giving our stuff away for free ten years ago… we thought charging for what we did would greatly limit the potential impact of the ministry.
- We saw the opportunity to provide services free of charge as an opportunity for our organization to model an object lesson in grace. After all, Jesus paid the price for our salvation. We can’t do anything to earn salvation…we simply have to accept Jesus’ gift, freely given. If “free” worked for Jesus, it should work for us.
- From a practical standpoint, the concept of “free” has historically been very appealing to a core group of our donors. For a long time, we probably raised far more money from folks who supported us in part because our services were made available for free than the money that would have resulted from offering training or resources for a nominal charge.
- From a personal standpoint, “free” was easier because “free” made it more difficult for other people to impugn my motives or the motives of our staff or volunteers, in keeping with Paul’s observations from 1 Corinthians. The impact of money on the decision-making of my physician colleagues has been a very sensitive topic in my field over the last five to seven years. I wanted church staff and volunteers to know that Key Ministry has no other agenda than to see more kids and families come to know Jesus through the ministry of a local church.
This strategy is (out of the six discussed in this miniseries) the one most likely to be modified in the coming years. We’ll always provide substantial tools and resources to churches free of charge and it would be my hope that we’ll always have someone available to answer a phone or respond to an e-mail when a pastor, staff member or church volunteer has questions about serving an especially complicated or challenging child or family. As the inclusive disability ministry movement continues to grow, it’s very possible in the future that our core staff may offer additional “value added services” to churches or denominations that provide ongoing financial support. As budgets become tighter, we may need to prioritize the scheduling of live training events at churches with the means to offset some of the expenses associated with travel. There will likely be a time when some members of our team might generate financial support through writing books or developing other products sold by ministry partners. Whatever we do in the future, the churches we serve can rest assured that our mission of helping churches welcome, serve and include kids with disabilities and their families isn’t going to change.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Key Ministry is pleased to invite you to make use of our website. Over 180 FREE, downloadable resources are available to pastors, church staff and volunteers seeking to serve kids with disabilities and their families. Please check out keyministry.org today and share the link with anyone who can benefit!