One-on-One with Warren Smith on MinistryWatch, Accountability, and the Need for Christian Journalism

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That sentence also describes American journalism today. 

Today I am glad to welcome Warren Smith to The Exchange. Warren is president of MinistryWatch. Here we talk about the ministry and why it is needed today.

Ed: What is MinistryWatch?

Warren: MinistryWatch is an independent advocate for donors to Christian charity. We’re 20 years old and maintain a database of financial statements and analysis of the 500 largest Christian ministries in the country. We use this analysis to rate ministries on a 1- to 5-scale based on financial efficiency.

So, for example, ministries that spend more on administrative and fundraising activities will see their ratings lowered. Ministries that have large endowments will also likely see their ratings affected negatively. The rating system rewards ministries that use donor money directly for ministry activities.

We also issue “Donor Alerts” when ministries engage in bad behavior, or when we think donors need to beware or ask additional questions. We do not issue donor alerts often, usually a couple of times a year to warn donors (and focus media attention) on bad actors or questionable activities.

An equally vital part of our work has been to raise the profile of lesser-known ministries doing great work. We call these ministries “Shining Lights,” after Matthew 5:16, which encourages us to “let your light so shine before men that they would see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

Ed: I’ve used the ministry to look up certain charities. Can you explain to people who might not be familiar why that matters?

Warren: The financial analysis is unique to MinistryWatch. Ministries and other non-profits are required by law to disclose publicly certain financial information. However, most people are …

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