Are churches allowed to host fundraisers? Most agree that church should provide an opportunity for believers to give at the Sunday services, but are other methods of giving biblical?
The Bible doesn't give us specifics, but it does give us some basic principles to help guide us:
1. Giving is the activity of believers
I don't mean to imply that unbelievers are never generous with their money. Some are. What I mean by this is that the church should see giving to the work of ministry and the ongoing needs of the poor as an activity for believers in Jesus Christ. Notice what John says: "For they have gone forth on behalf of the Name, accepting nothing from nonbelievers. Therefore we ought to support such people, so that we become coworkers in cooperation with the truth" (3 John 1:7-8). This is why our church doesn't host fundraisers that target the community at large (such as car washes in a shopping mart parking lot or bake-sales at a community festival). It is the privilege and responsibility of believers to give to the Lord's work, and we are to minister to the unbelieving community by sharing the Gospel, not see them as a source of revenue.
2. Giving is an act of worship
Notice the words of 1 Chronicles 16:29, "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness." All money that a believer gives is an offering to the Lord. As with all acts of worship, giving must be done for the purpose of praising the Lord and recognizing his glory and majesty. It is an act of reverence, recognizing his great worth.
By "act of reverence" I do not mean that the only biblical method of giving is when the plate is passed in hushed tones, with everyone's head bowed, as organ music is playing in the background. Recently I sat with a fellow believer for lunch when we noticed a young women near us frantically digging through her purse. She had just finished lunch with her two young children and apparently lost or misplaced her money. We overheard as she called her husband, and quickly gleaned that this family had very little money. It seems she had intentionally saved money to take her children out for this special treat. My friend got up, walked over to her, and grabbed the bill of the table. With a smile he said, "Miss, we would be happy to pay your bill. Jesus has been so good to us, we are just glad to be able to do something nice for others once in a while. Enjoy your time with your children." This fellow believer, at that moment, was worshiping God. He publicly praised the majesty of Jesus and paid this woman's bill as an act of praise and thankfulness. If you don't see that as worship, then you don't understand what worship is.
3. We are to give freely.
Paul tells us "you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion" (2 Corinthians 9:7). While it is proper to provide good teaching on the purpose and necessity of giving, the church must be careful never to pressure or demand that individuals give specific amounts of money to the work of the Lord. God specifically warned the Israelites to give "without a grudging heart" (Deuteronomy 15:10).
4. We are to give generously.
This principle is grounded in the Old Testament law where God instructed to Israelites to "give generously to them [the poor]" (Deuteronomy 15:10). In the New Testament Paul reminds us that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). We see an extraordinary example of this principle lived out in church at Macedonia. While most of the believers there lived under extreme hardship and poverty, Paul tells us they gave "above their means", even "begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Do you try to get away with giving as little as possible, or are you generous with your tithes and offerings to the Lord?
5. We are to give for the right reasons
Jesus warned his disciples not to give for the sake of being admired by men. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matthew 6:1). When you give, examine your motives. Are you giving to earn approval or to be recognized? Are you giving to gain influence or be admired? To avoid this, Jesus instructs us that, in as much as possible, our giving should be in secret (Matthew 6:3).
6. We are to plan our giving.
Let's face it. Life has a way of demanding and draining our finances. To ensure that the work of the Lord and the care of the poor could continue uninterrupted, Paul tells the Corinthians believers to set aside a portion of money on the first day of each week. They were to save that money until Paul came to collect it and take it to the saints in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:2). While this was a specific situation, it does give us a window into the mindset of the apostle. Providing for ministry and the needs of others was so important to Paul that he wanted believers to plan accordingly to ensure those activities could continue.
7. We are to bring a sizeable portion of our tithes and offerings to our local congregation.
In the early church believers brought their tithes and offerings to their church gatherings, freely distributing the funds to support the work of ministry (Acts 2:44-45). While at first this seems to have been very loosely organized, as the ministry demands and financial needs grew they realized the need for more oversight and planning (Acts 6:1-3). It is the duty and privilege of each believer in Jesus Christ to support the ministries of your local church. Think of all the costs involved in paying your pastor, supporting missionaries, and the costs associated with the church building (where the Gospel is preached). By joining together in fellowship with that group of believers, you committed to being involved in and helping to finance those (and other) ministries. This doesn't mean that all your giving must go to the local church, but the pattern of the Old and New Testaments is that a sizeable portion of your offerings should be given this way.
8. We are to give above and beyond what we bring to the congregation
Proverbs 3:27 tells us "do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it." Believers should stand ready to give, as we are able, when we see opportunities. Perhaps your family will choose to financially support a missionary. Maybe you can assist a fellow believer who is struggling with unexpected medical bills. There are hundreds of opportunities all around you, if you only have the willingness to see them. Never take the attitude that you fulfilled all that Christ demands just by dropping a check in the plate on Sunday. Giving isn't about an amount, its about a lifestyle.
So, can a church participate in fundraisers?
Of course. As long as all of the principles above are followed, there is no correct method we must use to give. While a large portion of our tithes and offerings will be directed towards the general operating budget of our local church, we are to also give generously and support ministry efforts throughout our week, as we have resources and opportunity. Help an unbelieving neighbor pay his electric bill. Invite the church Body to a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for an upcoming missions trip. Pay an absurd amount of money for a cookie at a youth group bake sale to help them buy new sound equipment for their outreach events. Run to Walmart and buy some craft items for the 'already-overbudget' VBS committee. See all of this as an act of worship and love for the Lord. Give generously, with freedom and joy, and as you are able.