Not to rejoice in another’s misery, but the Center for Congregational Health reminds us that “this economy of shrinking budgets is also one of expanding ministry opportunities.”  The upside of the downturn – if there is one – is that people are hurting, and hurting people are more open to receiving ministry from the faith community.

The danger in the opportunity is that some regions may be so affected they overwhelm the availability.  Think of the first days after a major hurricane or blizzard.  The damage in those natural events is so widespread that relief has to come from a distance, but the infrastructure to get the relief there (roads, etc.) are themselves hindrances.  What is able to be mobilized quickly is woefully inadequate to meet the initial demand.  And then, if the disaster continues beyond what is normal, the reserves begin to wear out and those providers become hopeful recipients.

For example, the first days after the 9-11 attacks saw widespread confusion and a lack of services until response to overcome the inertia.  Then, as the relief continued over time, I’m told that the emergency feeding began to run out of supplies, that there were literally were no more institutional-sized #10 cans of food available on the east coast to ship to NYC.  The demand had overrun the supply.

Churches, in their desire to minister to their community, must look first to their capability to respond.

Prov 22:3 – A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

Luke 14:28-30 – Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’

CCH Consultant Beth Kennett says not to wait until your church is in decline to reorder your finances. Be aware of what’s happening in your community and in your congregation. Like Joseph preparing for a famine, if your congregation is small and the income potential is fragile, begin making adjustments early.

Look to the needs of your congregation. In your evaluation of their capabilities, you will likely discover one or more families whose financial future is more uncertain, or perhaps is already tenuous. We are to care for one another first – our own household. It will not be a good witness if you give away what you have to prospects while members are suffering.

Then you can take your informed understanding of your congregation and your community, you can begin to partner with other churches and social service agencies to provide support to those in need.

Kinnett reminds us, however, that not all ministry has financial costs. “As people become stressed and fearful, faith communities can offer peace and hope as well as practical support, like food pantries and clothing exchanges. During tough times, it is helpful for congregations to know that they offer a relevant ministry.”

She told the story of a church in a small town where a local plant closing devastated the community. The congregation offered support groups, stress management and financial management classes, and hosted networking opportunities for job seekers. “When individuals’ economic situations change down the road, a church that has embraced such outreach opportunities may be bigger and healthier than it was before the economic slump.”

Source:  HealthyChurch.org article library.

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