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: article library.

Update on the Navajo Mission Trip:  While half our team led Backyard Bible Studies in three different neighborhoods, the rest of us split into two work teams to do home repair.

The neighborhood events are even more important here in New Mexico.  The city is spread out, with clusters of housing, usually according to “chapter” within one of the local tribes.  Often, someone of one chapter will not attend events in another chapter of the same tribe.  So we go to teach in their context.  It also spread our witness around the area. The teams did a craft, recreation, snack and Bible story.  Between 10 and 20 kids came to each. Several acknowledged they had accepted Jesus.

The home repairs were to show Christians helping other church members with tasks beyond their capability.  Team 1 went to one older couple’s house to build a ramp on the front of the house of her aged mother, and to repair the roof.  This is as much an act of honoring God’s servants.

Team 2 went to a mobile home of another member.  The kitchen flooring was chipped and worn, and had several soft spots where the floor sank when you walked on it.  I was on the team that removed the old flooring, cut out the rotted flooring and replaced it with new patches, and then installed new vinyl.  It was hard sweaty work, but was necessary for a quality job.  We were able to honor her request for a wood floor look with plank-patterned sheet vinyl, and were able to find and repair the leak where water was coming in to cause the damage.  When we were done, she blessed God for our efforts, and we were able to share the love of God and Christian care for one another with her kids (7 and 15).

And we had time to do repair and fix-up of the down town First Indian Baptist Church facilities.  A good week well spent.

Westchester Church in Grand Prarie, Texas is taking a soft sell to making friends in the community.  Free breakfast, hot and fast, no strings attached.

The problem with the way most of us do giveaways is there is a catch.  You gotta show up on Sunday and listen through a sermon.  They did that at the rescue mission that I did an early sermon at.  They had to listen to the sermon first to get fed after (so don’t preach too long!)

What Westminster does is give free breakfast on Friday to folks on the way to work.  They arrive around sunup and set out signs, cones, coolers, and muffins.  They position several people out at the street to invite the traffic in and a couple at the tables handing out the food and drink.   Everything is prepackaged to stay clear of health department rules.

On average, it takes about 20 seconds to take an order and fill it, and send the people on their way with an encouraging word. They have make strategic contacts with the community (including the police stopping by for free grub).  It costs a couple hundred dollars – an average day is around 80 cars.

The point is that they are connecting with their community, the people that live or work near that church.  It’s already on their drive path. 

You may wince at spending a couple hundred on stuff with no commitment, but how much is a single newspaper ad? (hint:  multiple hundreds of dollars for a small impression)