The latest issue of Christianity Today is on effective ways to fight poverty. It’s an important topic and I’m glad CT is talking about it. I was especially intrigued by the article “Cost-Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor” by Bruce Wydick.

Christians can too easily settle for good intentions. We usually support programs that make us feel good without considering whether they actually do good. We need to be smarter about actually thinking through which poverty strategies are most effective. “To answer this question” Wydick writes, “I polled top development economists who specialize in analyzing development programs. I asked them to rate, from 0 to 10, some of the most common poverty interventions to which ordinary people donate their money, in terms of impact and cost-effectiveness per donated dollar.”

These were the results:

1. Get clean water to rural villages (Rating: 8.3)
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children (Rating: 7.8)
3. Provide mosquito nets (Rating: 7.3)
4. Sponsor a child (Rating: 6.9)
5. Give wood-burning stoves (Rating: 6.0)
6. Give a micro-finance loan (Rating 4.2)
7. Fund reparative surgeries (Rating: 3.9)
8. Donate a farm animal (Rating 3.8)
9. Drink fair-trade coffee (Rating. 1.9)
10. Give a kid a laptop (1.8)

No doubt, some experts and donors will disagree with these rankings, but at least this gives a starting place for discussion and should encourage careful evaluation. Read the whole article and think through these issues for yourself. Sometimes helpinng the poor is not as simple as drinking a different coffee.

For more information onn effective mercy minstry check out When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Remember, more important than feeling good–as an individual, a church, or a government–is that we give in such a way as to do good.

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18 thoughts on “Help for the Poor that Really Helps”

  1. Very interesting way to approach this issue. Thanks for posting this. We are trying to figure out a healthy, Gospel-centered way to love people in our community and in the world. Effectiveness is now officially in the equation.

  2. Kevin SIne says:

    I think the book “When helping Hurts” should be a must read for anyone and everyone who is involved in missions, and would be beneficial to anyone who wants to help the poor. I am involved in missions work in Nicaragua with Fields of abundance found here http://www.fieldsofabundance.org and it is a must read before we bring anyone down. It has been a great help for us in our understanding to help those physically and spiritual poor. We in N. America sometimes have great intentions in helping but are unfortunately ignorant on how to go about doing it. So let’s put our desire with knowledge so we can best help those in need. Thanks Kevin for bringing this matter to the forefront.

    Kevin S.

  3. Reg Schofield says:

    After seeing and witnessing what sponsorship of a child can do , my personal opinion is that would be number 1 . But all are solid I believe. But one excuse that I’m tired of , and I have heard it , I just don’t know what I should do . That doesn’t cut it with me anymore with all the solid , gospel centered organisations working tirelessly to help , that most people do know about .

  4. Kristy M says:

    Thank you for posting this!! Unfortunately this is a huge problem in our culture. So many American Christians have great intentions in helping the poor, but lack the understanding of what they really need. In return you place so much shame upon the local poor and in other ways do harm to the poor in other countries. When Helping Hurts is one of the most eye opening convicting books I’ve ever read on mission work. I honestly believe EVERY Christian should read it, bc we are all called to mission work. Just where is different. That book completely changed the way I look at world missions and local missions as well!

  5. Truth unites... And divides says:

    Man does not live by bread alone….

  6. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the post Kevin. I have not read the books in question, but I think I could see a lot of good in them. Other books to read, coming from the secular point of view, would be Easterly’s ‘White Man’s Burden’ (good to be read in comparison with Sachs’s ‘War on Poverty’) and Moyo’s ‘Dead Aid.’

    I think a distinction could and should be drawn between missions work and developmental work. The former might be characterized by Church-driven organizations, as compared to the latter, characterized by WorldVision or Samaritan’s Purse (with due nuances between each category). Conflating the two can lead to a conflation of message. Helping the poor can be done in one’s hometown or in Africa, but it is always necessary to define ‘the poor.’ As a Peace Corps volunteer in what the UN considered the world’s poorest country (now is third from bottom), I did not consider most of my fellow villagers as poor (and neither did they). Rather, they were in a context far different from our own, in terms of nutrition, cost-of-living,…way of life.

    As I witnessed the efforts of certain of the above organizations, I felt that those missionaries who remained for decades in a small area of the country (whether or not accompanied by humanitarian asssistance) gave real bread of life whereas humanitarian organizations were fraught with corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency…and good motives. We can definitely empower and share knowledge and materials, but not without considering the extraordinary amount of change we are layering upon the status quo.

    The change (whether spiritual or material) we attempt to implement will and can never be as effective as that brought by people who live and breathe the context we are working in…otherwise known as ‘locals’.

  7. Jason Squires says:

    We disagree much Kevin, but since I don’t desire to be constantly combative, let me say that this was an excellent post.

  8. Michael B. says:

    Shouldn’t getting the gospel to the poor be the top priority? Isn’t it the case that they’ll only be starving for a few years, but they’ll burn in hell forever?

  9. Michele Nunnink says:

    We changed sponsoring a child through World Vision, and went to Compassion, because it seemed more Gospel centered. Does anyone else know organizations that help the poor, and faithfully bring the Gospel?

  10. Bob Sutton says:

    CT missed out recognizing that Compassion International (CI) is involved with providing affordable safe water supplies through its “Water For Life” program, and insecticide treated nets through its “Bite Back” ministry. And sponsored children (over 1.2 million) are provided basic medical care encompassing #2, CI is distinctly engaged in the top four categories in this article.

    @Michele Nunnink… Gospel For Asia would align well with your interests.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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