Should ministries offer their online media for free?
Yes, I would try to persuade ministries to do what we do at Desiring God. And what we do is say that if you can hold an item in your hand, we're going to sell it. And we'll try to sell it at a margin that is as low as possible, so that our ministry can be kept solvent. (You can hold a CD in your hand. Same with a shirt.)
But if you can't hold it in your hand—if it's electronic—we give it away. So if you can download it from the internet, then we give it to you. That's the way we've tried to draw the line, instead of requiring people to pay a dollar for each download, or whatever.
We think that, given all the factors that make Desiring God work, that is a really good policy that signals our desire not to make money. It signals our real strong passion to spread to as many audiences as possible. It signals our satisfaction in Jesus and not money, and so on.
We could boast about it and then ruin the whole thing, which is the danger with what I'm doing here.
However, I was talking about this with a leader of another ministry that is bigger than ours, and he asked me a few questions about how much people give, what we sell, and so on. And he explained to me that the financial dynamics are just working very differently at his ministry. They don't have the kind of support we have in terms of gifts.
Desiring God is supported by people who love this vision, therefore they give. I don't know what percentage it is, but a very large portion of our budget is given to us. It's just given! That's because people love what we teach and they love the way we distribute it. And that's what makes the give-away possible. If that didn't happen, what would we do? We'd go under, or we'd have to change our margins or do something.
So I want to be real slow so and not presume to know more than I know about how other ministries do it. I would just encourage them to consider how we do it, and take the opportunity to try and convince of it.
Here would be one of the arguments I would use, pragmatically. There was a time when we thought, "If we give Desiring God away digitally, or all the sermons, then we won't be able to sell any DVDs or CDs. In other words, it will undercut the whole desire in people to have the hard copies."
But then we thought, "That may not be true, because it will simply raise so much awareness that wasn't there before—because it's free—that people who don't want to take the time to download 50 sermons might actually buy a DVD with 50 sermons on it," which they do.
So there are a lot of factors that go into it. I don't want to say it is the only biblical way to do it. We're just always thinking, "How can we—by the way we do things—say true things in ways that people can see about how we treasure Christ above money?"