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Ep. 113: A Special Message From MinistryWatch President Warren Smith

My name is Warren Smith.  I’m the president of MinistryWatch, and this week we’re taking a break from our normal podcast schedule so we can give our staff a break, and so I can share with you a special message.

This episode will be much shorter than normal, but I hope you’ll hang with me for 6 or 7 minutes so I can tell you a bit about who we are, what we do, and to answer a couple of questions we often get about the podcast.

Let me begin by acknowledging what I’m sure you already know.  We live in a cynical, skeptical, and secular age.

Faith in all our major institutions is at or near an all-time low.  Government, business, journalism, the law, and medicine.  People no longer trust institutions and professions that used to command prestige and respect.

This erosion of credibility has also hit the church.

The mission of MinistryWatch is to help restore credibility to the evangelical ministry world by bringing increased transparency and accountability to the Christian ministry marketplace.  We believe that increased transparency and accountability lead to greater confidence in and, ultimately, more giving to these ministries.

We pursue this goal of bringing transparency and accountability to ministries by using a couple of basic but powerful tools.

First, we analyze on an annual basis the financial statements of more than 900 of the largest Christian ministries in the country.  We give these ministries Financial Efficiency Ratings and Transparency Grades.  We make this information available in a searchable database that is free and easy to use.  Donors can see at a glance how their favorite ministries are actually spending their money.  We take data that is often buried in Form 990s and audited financial statements, and make it available to everyone.

Secondly, we do investigative and accountability journalism.  We publish between 60 and 80 stories a month at the MinistryWatch.  And our stories get results.  Some of our stories have led to transitions in leadership and positive policy changes at the ministries we cover.

And that’s an important point.  At MinistryWatch, our goal is not to tear down, but to build up. When we must write a tough story about a ministry, it is our sincere prayer that the story results in reform, in restoration, and that the ministry is not weakened, but that the ministry takes corrective action is stronger than ever.

We have developed a loyal audience that understands what we are about.  Our website has enjoyed 2-million page views in the past year, and we hope to hit 2.5-million this year.

In a recent survey of our readers, a full three-quarters of them said they have used MinistryWatch to help them make giving decisions.  Nearly half of them say they have changed their giving decisions based on what they have learned on our site.

There’s one final thing I want to share with you:  We are donor-supported.  We do not accept advertising on our website.  We do not take money from the ministries we cover.  We exist to serve donors – to help them – to help you – become more effective stewards of the resources God has entrusted to you.

I hope what I’ve said so far gives you an idea of why we exist.  I’d like to spend a couple more minutes answering some questions we frequently get about the podcast.

The first question I get is:  Is Natasha Smith, your co-host, your daughter?

The answer to that is NO.  We share the same last name, but she is not my daughter, or related in any way.

The next question is:  Natasha often reads off a lot of names at the end of each show, names of people who have contributed to the program.  How big is your staff?

The answer to that question is simple:  The size of the staff at MinistryWatch is 1.  I’m the only full-time staff member at MinistryWatch.  Now, that answer requires a bit of explanation.  COVID has proven to the world that you don’t have to gather in an office to get things done, but MinistryWatch was operating that way far before COVID.

Christina Darnell, our managing editor and someone who sometimes substitutes for Natasha on the podcast, is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother with 3 children.  Wait.  Scratch that.  Four children.  In fact, as I am recording this, on July 1, Christina is going into the hospital to deliver her fourth.  She’ll be off for a month, but since she has always worked for us from home, we are hoping that she will be able to ease back in on a part time basis as she sees fit.

Everyone else on our staff, from our podcast producers Steve Gandy and Rich Roszel, to our writers, including Steve Rabey, Kim Roberts, Anne Stych, and Shannon Cuthrell are contractors.  They are seasoned, experienced people that, quite frankly, we probably couldn’t afford as full-time employees.  But we offer them meaningful work, flexibility, and steady income as a writer.  And they offer us great journalism day in and day out.  This business model allows MinistryWatch to keep management and administrative costs to a minimum and allows us to – journalistically speaking – punch above our weight, you might say.

Well, when we started, I promised this episode would be short – so we can both enjoy the Independence Day holiday.  So I’ll stop here.  I hope this little peek under the hood MinistryWatch machine gives you a better idea of how and why we do what we do.  Next week, we’ll be back mostly to normal, as we begin a new fiscal year.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the holiday, and – as always – May God Bless You!