Written by Tim Kershner
A generation ago, "crowdfunding" in the church required an actual crowd, an assembly of people, passing a basket or gold plate among them.
Today UCC churches, along with many local ministries, have incorporated social media into their communication activities and, more recently, funding.
In a convergence of ministry meeting social media encountering serendipity, a California homeless ministry received a $1,000 pledge – half of its $2,000 goal – through social media after a General Synod presentation June 27 on using crowdfunding as a growing tool to match donors and ministries.
"'Wood to the Fire' (WTTF) is the first and only crowdfunding website to support projects for a just and generous Christianity," the Rev. Ben Guess, executive minster of UCC Local Church Ministries, announced to delegates. While only churches currently receiving other grants from the UCC national ministries are currently on the website, Guess says that WTTF will soon be open to all UCC churches.
Shortly after the website address was shared on Saturday, one listed project, (a)Spire Church, Pasadena, Calif.'s "meal and healing with homeless neighbors" received a $1,000 pledge according to Rev. Andy Schweibert, lead pastor of (a)Spire.
On the website, (a)Spire and Schweibert present their outreach idea to the WTTF community as a "new ministry and as an outreach." Each of the three planned worship and meal-centered events uses a theme such as gathering video stories, sharing through art, and offering hope through healing. The activities will take place in a park near the church.
"We knew we had the skills to make it happen," he says. "We hope to be advocates for the homeless and the resources they need. Through people telling their stories through art we can create more effective advocacy pieces."
Schweibert is excited about the growing use of social media to engage a younger audience in the work of the church. "Millennials outside the church probably won't give to support church infrastructure, but they will probably give to support mission endeavors that will impact people's lives," he says. "Social media is one more way of reaching people that is not threatening."
"Crowdfunding like 'Wood To The Fire' gives us a way to reach people both inside and outside the church to support ministry projects. It forces us to think 'missionally' and think about projects that immediately affect people."
"Wood To The Fire" (woodtothefire.org) was created by the Local Church Ministries and the Center for Progressive Renewal and funded by gifts to "Testimony," a matching-offering fund investing in church development. Eleven projects are currently offered on the page for support ranging from $2,000 to $30,000 and include outreach projects such as (a)Spire's, church leader training, and even the need for one ministry's website.
More than just requesting funds for ministry, Schweibert and the (a)Spire leadership team also wanted to demonstrate the business realities of mission. Their online pitch, resembling a business plan, is available along with a detailed budget enumerating the cost of each expected meal and other items to be provided.
"Two-thousand dollars is not a ton of money, but it's feasible. My hope is that we will engage donors who will give to this project and engage in the work."
Schweibert does not know the identity of the donor whose gift arrived by way of PayPal (as will all of the WTTF gifts). He wants the donor to know he and his team are thankful for the gift and for "partnering with us, for believing in us, and for impacting the lives of the homeless in our community."
The good news aside, (a)Spire is still only halfway to its goal. Another $1,000 needs to be raised for the activities to happen. Schweibert "won't turn away large gifts," but believes his and other ministries will also benefit from "many smaller gifts as individuals take ownership" of a ministry.
All of the current Wood To The Fire projects can be found at woodtothefire.org.