The CEO of a charity focused on poverty alleviation and spiritual formation, Joshua Crossman of the Pinetops Foundation, says the coronavirus emergency is putting serious strain on churches in low-income areas. These institutions are taking care of congregants suffering from job loss or sickness while their revenue from voluntary donations is plummeting. The president of a nonprofit that organizes Christians for community involvement, Justin Giboney of the AND Campaign, has had African-American leaders approach him about this same problem.
The problem is widespread. In the latest Barna survey of church leaders, 47 percent reported their financial giving was “significantly down,” and another 32 percent said gifts were “slightly down.” So Giboney and Crossman went looking for ways to keep the lights on at small churches as they continue to offer pastoral care.
Churches Helping Churches is the initiative put together by the two men, along with other Christian groups and leaders. It quickly funnels micro-grants to struggling congregations across the country. To qualify, a church must have no more than 150 congregants, be located in a low-income community, and adhere to traditional Christian teaching. A church applies online, a selection committee with representatives from several different religious nonprofits chooses recipients, and the National Christian Foundation (which is administering the money through a donor-advised fund) sends out checks in the amount of $3,000. Almost overnight there were 1,200 applications.
The initiative raised more than $400,000 in the month of April, all of which will go directly to churches. Donors like Bob Doll, who gave $25,000 with his wife through their family foundation, quickly hopped on board. “It’s a great idea,” says Doll, who was particularly impressed by the speed at which the help unfolded. Former NFL player Benjamin Watson donated $21,000 ($3,000 for each of his seven kids). Churches teach goodness and help other people, says Watson, and “are vitally important to the health of our communities, yet they’re going to be struggling during this time.”
The fund has also received many smaller donations of between $5 and $1,000. In addition to boosting emergency efforts in churches that are financially at risk, the initiative also hopes to encourage more well-to-do churches to take an interest in their struggling faith neighbors.
Harvey Drake, pastor of Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle, says his congregation, while just 50-60 people, is active. A couple of weeks ago it provided groceries to 75 local families. The Churches Helping Churches grant it recently received will help Emerald City Bible Fellowship keep staff employed.
Thousands of miles away, Pastors Sonny and Rosie Salas live in what Rosie calls “a Medicaid community” in southeast Texas. The town of Markham has a population of less than 1,500, many of them elderly, and Discover Life Church is busy helping out. Before the pandemic, the church served hundreds of hot meals to the needy. “We miss doing that now,” says Rosie. Instead the church leaves nonperishable food at front doors. Rosie says the Churches Helping Churches online application was “very simple,” and that they received funds a couple weeks after clicking Send. The grant will help the 130-strong church keep serving its congregation through Zoom meetings and outreach.
“We believe in the importance of mediating institutions to knit together the fabric of local civic society,” says Joshua Crossman. “The value of churches coming together…goes all the way back to churches in Greece helping churches in Jerusalem.” He says the present relief effort will continue to raise funds and pass them on to fragile community fellowships until the pandemic crisis is over.