My pastor tells me that, with the downturn in the economy, more people are requesting assistance from our church. We have limited funds. What can we do?
Your church is not alone in facing the extra strain on resources. Having to turn people away because of limited funds is one of the most emotionally draining situations I face as a pastor.
One way to help is to find additional funds for assistance. Recognize the need as a high priority and adjust how the church spends money. Your church might go on a “fellowship fast.” Eliminate totally or reduce substantially what is spent on food or refreshments, and earmark the savings for the emergency relief fund. With a little imagination, you and your church can find other creative ways to increase the available funds.
A second way to help is to find partners. Most of us have heard of food banks and clothes closets. But someone who needs food and clothes likely needs help with housing, utilities and medicine. Finding a central agency to point you toward those who help may be as simple as dialing 211 on your phone. The 211 call connects you with many helping and referral agencies. If this is not available in your community, check with the United Way of America (www.liveunited.org) and the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (www.airs.org). One example of how this may help is that some agencies can offer utility assistance provided by the companies themselves, whereas churches cannot afford this.
The increasing number of requests reminds me that many factors contribute to poverty. Most of our church’s requests come from people who live at the fringes of economic security. They are struggling to make ends meet, but many are forced into low-paying and insecure jobs.
A third way to help is for churches to change how they get involved in meeting human needs. Consider expanding help beyond emergency aid. Some suggestions are: “Adopt” someone who is looking for permanent and secure employment. Offer GED-preparation classes. Offer free childcare for parents who are in job-training classes or are in college. Provide scholarships for people who cannot afford vocational training. Be a friend. Offer encouragement. This will take more time and energy than just giving money, but the results will be long-lasting.
A final way to assist the poor is to get involved in the process of making system changes that will help the poor. Partner with a network dedicated to addressing the causes of poverty and injustice. Two that come quickly to mind are Sojourners (www.sojo.net) and World Vision (www.worldvision. org). While we may not be able to eliminate poverty, we can join others seeking justice in our world.
David Morgan, pastor
Trinity Baptist Church