A raffle is a way to make money by selling tickets, or “chances,” to win a big prize. Usually, the tickets are numbered and the winner is drawn at random, so the more tickets a person buys, the greater his chance of winning. Raffles are sometimes used by school groups, civic clubs, and charities as a means of raising money. Some churches and youth groups use raffles to raise money for summer camp, mission trips, or needed equipment. For various reasons, some Christians object to the use of raffles at church.
One of the biggest objections to any kind of raffle, in or out of a church, is that the idea of “chance” draws in many people who should be spending their money more wisely. Studies have shown that the people most likely to buy lottery tickets and raffle chances are those who can least afford them. Money that is needed elsewhere is used to buy handfuls of tickets on the outside chance of winning a prize or a jackpot. Some churches refuse to hold raffles because they don’t want to further the “gambler mentality.”
Another objection to church raffles is that the Bible never mentions gambling or “chance” as a legitimate way to obtain church funds. They say that God’s work should be funded by God’s people through tithes and offerings (e.g., Numbers 18:24; 2 Chronicles 29:31; Malachi 3:10), not coerced through the possibility of winning something. Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Purchasing raffle tickets is not giving to the Lord but investing in chance. Tickets are bought in hopes of gaining something tangible in return, which means they are not freewill offerings. The logic is that the church should not rely upon raffle money to meet its needs but should rely upon the Lord to work through the hearts of His people (Deuteronomy 16:17; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Most raffles involve selling tickets to the community at large, in addition to the people of the church, and this also is a cause of concern for some churches who believe that God’s work should be supported by God’s people without depending on the unsaved.
Defenders of raffles in the church say that participants are well aware that their money is going to a good cause and would willingly give it anyway. The raffle just makes it more fun, and the possibility of a reward encourages greater generosity. Some winners donate the prize back to the cause as a means of further supporting the goal. Some also point out that drawing straws or throwing dice was a common practice in Bible times as a way of discerning God’s direction (Leviticus 16:8; Proverbs 16:33). Since the Bible never speaks negatively against raffles or even lotteries, churches should feel free to use them if they so desire.
The greatest example of using “chance” to further God’s work is found in Acts 1:26 when the apostles needed to select another man to replace Judas. They nominated two who met the qualifications of an apostle, prayed for guidance, and cast lots. The lot fell to Matthias. Scholars have debated whether the apostles overstepped God’s plan by choosing their own apostle rather than waiting for His choice, who was clearly Paul (Acts 9:1–15). However, there is no biblical foundation for believing that the apostles were in disobedience when they used this means to determine God’s will. They were clearly seeking the plan of God and were living in obedience to Jesus’ final words to wait for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). Although the apostles’ casting of lots was nothing like a raffle in that no one was seeking a “prize,” raffle supporters still consider that the apostles were depending upon chance to fulfill God’s purposes. The practice of casting lots to determine God’s will is nowhere condemned in Scripture.
As with any decision a church makes, prayer and seeking God should dominate the decision-making process. Since Christ is the head of any true church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:15), He must be the Lord of every action. We can often discern His will by asking, “If Jesus were sitting in this meeting with us, what would He tell us to do?”
In addition, there are a few more questions worth considering:
• Does Jesus want to fund His programs through raffles instead of freewill offerings?
• Could such fundraising avenues present Christ’s church as people who are greedy and desperate for money?
• Could someone’s reluctance to freely give, coupled with a willingness to spend the same amount on a slim chance of winning a prize, indicate misplaced priorities?
• Does holding a raffle eliminate the opportunity to wait on the Lord and trust Him for financing?
When we have answered these questions, we are in a better position to determine whether or not our church should hold a raffle. Since Christ is the Head of the church, it should be His decision. The rest of the body should always seek His methods for furthering His work.