Churches are a natural place where people turn for help in tough times. But what happens when the churches themselves are struggling for survival?
The fact is, if people don’t step in to help, we’re about to find out.
For years, Justin Giboney and some local African-American church leaders had been looking at the importance of small churches – those with 50-150 members in urban communities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and other low-income areas. They’d been looking at their importance in the lives of young people, of families, as centers of stability in urban contexts, critical to serving minority and immigrant populations.
The conversation only had to shift a little when it became evident that the nation was experiencing a pandemic. Not only did the health issues hit the people in these urban communities harder but it was hitting their economies as well, making it more difficult for people to give at just the time when churches needed the most help.
In densely populated urban areas, more people are likely to get sick and less likely to have proper access to doctors and sufficient insurance coverage. They’re more likely to work in service jobs, which makes them unable to shelter in place. This has led to higher rates of infections and death.
“People who work hourly jobs, physical jobs, jobs that don’t lend themselves to telecommuting are struggling,” and so are their churches, says Josh Crossman, a donor who joined Justin to work on a solution. The two recruited friends, national ministries, church leaders, and others who love the local church to join in as well. Together, they devised a plan in record time. The opportunity to help the nation’s small churches was always there, but now there was no time to waste.
The opportunity to help the nation’s small churches was always there, but now there was no time to waste.
“Many of us believe in the importance of civic institutions and the institution of the church helping to care for the poor in their moment of need,” Crossman says. “This is that moment … when the church needs to be aggressive and famous for meeting that need.” We need to care for those in need, “just like the Macedonian church did for the church in Jerusalem,” he says.
Two weeks into their surveying churches about the crisis, 7 percent reported they were uncertain or didn’t believe they would survive the economic effects of the pandemic.
Josh did the math. That meant more than 20,000 American churches might disappear.
“Many of us believe in the importance of civic institutions and the institution of the church helping to care for the poor in their moment of need. This is that moment.”
Within a week of their initial discussions, a website went up (churchrelief.org). They’d established a national board. Pastors and other public figures around the country were speaking up in public about Churches Helping Churches, even as the plan was still coming together.
The men called David Wills at NCF for advice and help. Within 24 hours, NCF was able to set up a Fund to receive the grants, so they could get money to churches in need as quickly as possible. Our grants team showed them how to put a donate button on their website which directs to the COVID-19 Church Relief Fund, making it much easier to make a contribution.
Funds started coming in immediately.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
– Galatians 6:10
Here’s how Churches Helping Churches works
The campaign organizers began fundraising on April 6 with a goal of $500,000 by the end of April. With the money raised, they hope to provide $3,000 grants to as many churches as possible. To date, the campaign has raised more than $340,000, and 93 grant requests have been approved and are in process to receive help quickly. Some have already received the money.
While these grants will likely not be enough to sustain a church’s budget, they should be enough to offset a mortgage or rent payment or help to pay staff who might otherwise have been laid off.
Once churches meet the criteria and are approved, these are “no-strings-attached” grants. Churches don’t have to worry about reporting back (though they have the option of doing so anecdotally).
Larger churches are encouraged to give what they can to support these smaller churches who are critical to the populations they serve. But beyond this, Crossman says he hopes that larger churches will reach out through networks in their communities or on the Church Relief website to find a church they can partner with and help over a longer term.
Here’s an example. Holding the Light Church is located in Detroit. They minister to those in great need, and more than half of the adults in their congregation have been laid off during the pandemic. They received a $3000 grant from this effort and have used it to provide food and assistance for their members and the homeless in their communities. Even in their need, they are generous to help others in the name of Jesus!
“History will judge the American church,” he says. “How did we help our brothers and sisters in the church?”
Some urban churches in Portland needed help moving to online services, but they didn’t have the equipment to do it. They needed iPads and software to make it happen. A few larger local churches in their city became aware of their need before the Church Relief Fund was even established. They didn’t wait, but stepped up to help right away. Rather than choosing to give the $3000 grant, they offered to provide directly for what those churches needed to make the transition.
“A few churches have stepped up as great examples,” Crossman says, “but we really need hundreds of these, and more partnering [long term] with churches in their own communities.”
Here’s how you can help
- If you have an NCF Giving Fund: You can make a fund-to-fund transfer by logging into your Giving Fund, selecting “Transfer” from the blue bar at the top of the page. Be sure to include the Fund Name: COVID-19 Church Relief Fund, and include the Fund number #3245330
- If you don’t have a Giving Fund: You can set one up in just a few minutes.
- If you’re a church: You can go to churchrelief.org to donate. You can also seek out networks and relationships in your own area to find a church that may need help. The Church Relief website has a set of best practices to help you partner with another church for a longer-term commitment, and you can contact them if you need help finding one.
For the sake of complete transparency for donors, every church grant received will be posted to the Churches Helping Churches website. And churches have the option of reporting back about how the money helped them.
“History will judge the American church,” Josh says. “How did we help our brothers and sisters in the church?”