Serving Church Members in Financial Hardship
Churches have been working hard to adapt to continuing ministry during the coronavirus lockdown. They may also need to think through how to support their members who are struggling financially during this crisis.
Many of us have been stirred by the words from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:13-14, to ensure that as individuals, and churches, we aim to help others.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.
Often we help those who live elsewhere, as these believers did in the first century. But many churches also have methods of practically helping people within their own membership as occasional needs arise.
During these unprecedented times of coronavirus, we may need to raise the bar of helping one another in this way.
It has been great to see churches adapt to new ways of encouraging worship, proclaiming the gospel, communicating the Bible, and providing pastoral support to people through some very dark days.
But what about developing a financial support fund for those who are struggling due to the massive and unexpected economic changes of the last few weeks?
Identify the financially vulnerable and at risk
Strange as it may sound, a pensioner (usually a needy group) told me that he is not under financial strain as his pension is not affected in the current crisis. But most of the self-employed may be in very strained circumstances.
Not all people in work qualify for the furlough scheme the Government has offered, and now have little income, if at all. Many will be worried that as the workplace returns to a new normal, there won’t be work for them when they return. Many small and medium enterprises face possible closure with the result that many people may be made redundant. There may be quite a lot of help needed to overcome short-term difficulties.
At Grace Community Church, Bedford, we’ve used a triage system: firstly, to identify those with health issues to help our pastoral staff best support those at risk in the COVID-19 pandemic; but secondly, to identify those in the congregation who may be under great financial strain.
Matters such as self-employment, only one income in the family, those not in key worker or secure employment, and so on were all considered.
We then wrote to all these people assuring them of our love and our desire to help them practically if they were in need. We invited them to apply to what we have called ‘The COVID-19 Financial Support Fund’. Of course, that needed careful handling, GDPR compliance, and a wise application of Galatians 6:10: ‘Do good to all, especially to the household of faith.’
Ask those with plenty to contribute more
We have encouraged those who can, to contribute financially more than usual.
For those on pensions or benefits perhaps there isn't much spare money around to give extra. But for those in secure jobs, the lockdown has meant that there may be some extra money at the end of the month as the usual outgoings (leisure spending, meals out, travel, fuel, and even holidays) are less, even a lot less.
If that is your situation, could we suggest you think of ways of being generous?
One way of being generous in this time is personal, informal, and ‘organic’ – acts of generosity which you determine.
For example, one of our members is still paying her hairdresser as if she was doing the job to help her business to keep going. Another is paying for an exercise routine even though it can't be done, and another is maintaining subscriptions to a sports club to ensure it can survive. There are myriad ways of helping people through small acts of kindness and to practically help people you know.
The other way is more formal and organised, and that is to contribute to a special fund the local church could set up to help at this time.
Our church has set up such a fund. For us, through the generosity of a donor, we were able to say to the whole church that we can match fund anything that members give to this fund. So if someone can give £500, it can become £1000 in the fund. It gave us some immediate extra resources, but that means we may also be able to support people through very tough times.
Notes on a formal fund
Firstly, we didn't call it a ‘hardship’ or ‘needy persons’ fund because we did not want to put anyone off applying. Some people, no matter how difficult their circumstances, would not want to ‘put on others’ in their church family by self-identifying as ‘needy’.
Secondly, we had to be wise. We created some forms to ask honest questions about other sources of support (Government benefits, support from their family, savings, and so on) so that we could help those really in need (see Paul’s wisdom for this kind of thing in 1 Timothy 5:9, 10, 16).
Thirdly, we want to be generous in spirit and action. An extra fiver for an Easter egg for the children is nice, but an extra £500 can take some of the fear about paying bills away!
It may be that the need for help has to last a few months until people’s circumstances, including their financial ones, become clearer. Adjustments will no doubt have to be made. But until they can be, being extra kind and generous may help enormously.
May we commend this to you?