Churches Often Do More Harm Than Good When Attempting to Help the Poor, Eye-Opening New Book Reveals

Share Article

Authors cover everything from how to do short-term missions without doing long-term harm, to the pros and cons of micro-finance institutions, to the dangers of "McDevelopment."

American Christians aren’t doing enough to alleviate poverty, and when they attempt to do so, they often do more harm than good. So say Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, authors of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... and Yourself, an eye-opening new book on the causes of and solutions to the problem of poverty.

“Handing over money is fast and easy ... and therein resides the problem of many poverty-alleviation efforts,” say Corbett and Fikkert of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, which equips churches around the world to minister to the economic and spiritual needs of low-income people (

A must-read for North American congregations participating in poverty alleviation at home and abroad, the book contains invaluable principles that are applicable in many non-profit settings.

Perhaps the most surprising insight in the book is the authors’ contention that all poverty is the result of broken relationships—with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Furthermore, they explain, brokenness in these relationships is expressed not just at a personal level but also in the economic, political, social and religious systems that humans create.

The bottom line? “If we reduce humans to being simply physical—as Western thought is prone to do—our poverty-alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in design and execution,” Corbett and Fikkert say.

Page after page, the authors aren’t afraid to go against the grain ... from how to do short-term missions without doing long-term harm (Americans spent $1.6 billion on short–term missions in 2006 alone), to the pros and cons of micro-finance institutions, to the dangers of "McDevelopment"—using a “blueprint approach” in which the economically non-poor develop a standardized product and then roll out that product in cookie-cutter fashion on a massive scale devoid of the essential relational dimensions.

“It is the fast-food-franchise approach to poverty alleviation, and it has resulted in more than 2.5 billion poor people not being served,” the authors say pointedly.

The book also addresses the rise of the “suburban poor” in America—how, for the first time in U.S. history, more poor people live in suburbs than in cities. “Many suburban churches now find themselves on the front lines of America’s war on poverty, without even realizing it,” Corbett and Fikkert say.

They conclude, “North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it.”

Learn more at For review copies, contact Bernie Alimonti at 706-419-1808 or bernie(dot)alimonti(at)covenant(dot)edu.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print