Common Practice Week 5 Q&A

We recently hosted a Common Practice webinar called “Benevolence Ministry in a Pandemic” that was delivered by our friends at the Chalmers Center. More than 100 questions came in during the webinar! We wished we could have addressed all of them on the call, but the article below categorizes several of the questions. Our friends at the Chalmers Center have addressed them below.

Click here if you missed webinar or want to revisit it and feel free to download the speaker slides.

General Benevolence Guidelines

Q: By far the most frequently asked question was a variation on “When do we know how to move between relief and development?”, “How do we start to apply a developmental approach after the crisis is over?”, or “What about helping populations that are already in chronic poverty?”

A: This is where Chalmers forthcoming online course Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry and the book Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence should be very helpful. Through these tools, you’ll learn (among other things):

  • How to design a benevolence policy to guide your church as you serve others.
  • How to better understand the distinctions (and blurry lines) between relief, rehabilitation and development and help people in each category.
  • How to develop a healthy intake process and action plan to walk with people across time.
  • How to mobilize volunteers and develop healthy partnerships among churches and between churches and nonprofits.

Here are also a few short pieces from both Made to Flourish and The Chalmers Center that can help you think through some of the nuances right now.

Of course, as Brian, Steve, and Eric shared, even as we focus on relationships and keep doing our due diligence, right now is not the time to overdo your process or place burdensome conditions on giving. You can think through ways to decide when to start to shift back to a more developmental approach—a benchmark like “When our county’s unemployment rate drops below x %” or “When we go a day/week without any new urgent requests.” Don’t forget that you can be developmental even in a relief situation, if someone wrestles with chronic poverty, but is currently unemployed because of the crisis, you can provide for their urgent needs and fold them into financial literacy classes (or online, while quarantine lasts) or offer them temporary work at your church.

Relationship and Partnership Issues

Q: We had several questions like “How do we help people in our churches who are not used to asking for help, or worse, feel shame around that?”

A: This is tough one, for sure, and there’s not an easy answer. One suggestion would be for pastors to teach on the commonality we share as the body of Christ, and the economic implications for that (See Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-5:10; 6:1-7; 2 Cor. 8-9). American Christians are used to being taught how to give generously, but not how to be dependent on each other. We need to be taught how to ask and given permission and encouragement to do so.

For those of you with well-developed policies and procedures for Benevolence, you should feel OK to waive some of those for longstanding church members who are now in sudden need because of our stressful economic moment.

Q: We had several questions around partnership with other churches and nonprofits.

A: Even in the best of times we can’t do everything for everyone, even if we wanted to! Here are some questions to ask yourself about partnership:

  • What are some specific areas of weakness in your church’s benevolence ministry that might be filled through partnership with others?
  • Think of the other churches within 3 miles of your church. In what ways might you interact with them to provide better benevolence ministry services together than you can separately?
  • Think about the nonprofit organizations operating in your community or city. In what ways do the services they offer connect with the goals of your benevolence ministry?

In this, it’s helpful to remember Lesslie Newbigin’s teaching that the parachurch, properly imagined, is an extension of the ministry of the local church. It is rooted in and flows back into the local church. Often the nonprofits in your community were born out of churches who wanted to create a way to have paid staff carry on a particular aspect of their ministry in the community. Even secular nonprofits often have many faithful Christians on staff.

A healthy church-to-church or church-to-nonprofit partnership is going to include:

  • A shared sense of overlap around a holistic approach to poverty alleviation.
  • A shared desire to cultivate trust and accountability
  • A shared understanding that none of our churches or organizations can do it all, and that we serve members of our community better when we work together.

Financial Issues

Q: Several of you asked about ways to do more direct financial programs with people as you walk with people in more long-term material poverty (budgeting, etc.).

A: There are many fine financial literacy trainings available. The Chalmers Center has developed Faith & Finances, which is specifically geared to address the financial obstacles faced by low-income families in the U.S. This course is offered as a facilitator training through Chalmers, and then certified facilitators can use this curriculum in their church or ministry.

Several people asked as well about matched savings accounts or other tools. These are covered in Faith & Finances, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has helpful information about state-by-state regulations and programs for Individual Development Accounts, which can be a very helpful tool.

Q: “Should we counsel folks to take out their 401(k) or other retirement savings before meeting their benevolence needs since the government has waived penalties?”

A: That’s up to you, but I would advise against it. It is essentially asking people to borrow money to cover expenses, pushing the need further down the road. If your church has the funds to help meet their emergency needs now resulting from a sudden job loss, etc., why not do so?

Q: “Do we need to get a 1099 from people receiving more than $600 in benevolence?”

A: From Doug, the Chalmers Center’s accountant: “The short answer is no 1099 is required for reporting on benevolence as they are non-taxable gifts. The only time it becomes a potential issue is when the gift is given to an employee, in that case, I would encourage the church to seek professional advice as to the specifics. In that case, it could become a W2 issue, not a 1099 issue. This article provides some helpful guidelines.”

 Q: “How should we help people we’re already working with spend their stimulus check wisely?”

A: The America Saves Newsletter has a really good article called, “4 Steps to Spending Your Stimulus Check Wisely.” This is a great place to start.

Q: “Should we help people who are getting government assistance?” or “Should we accept government assistance and help those who have trouble accessing it or who are ineligible?”

A: These are gray areas. You should certainly take any government assistance people are receiving into account as you process their benevolence requests. It may be, though, that what they are receiving still doesn’t cover their emergency needs. Use wisdom, but err on the side of generosity.

Taking government assistance for your church our nonprofit expressly to give to others may not be advisable. You should certainly never apply for any government funding under false pretenses. In specific cases, consult a CPA.

Questions on Ethnicity and Culture

Q: “What resources on these subjects to you have in Spanish?”

A: The Chalmers Center has the book When Helping Hurts (Cuando Ayudar Hace Daño) and the Faith & Financescurriculum (Fe y Finanzascontact Chalmers for information) available in Spanish.

Q: “Should we provide assistance to undocumented individuals and families?”

A: Again, use wisdom, but err on the side of generosity. In situations where failure to help will result in immediate harm (hunger, homelessness, illness or injury), you should absolutely help. It may be an opportunity to develop longer term relationships to help them work through immigration law and gain documented status, etc. It would be good to find local immigrant or refugee services agencies to help you work through specific situations.

Other General Questions

Q: “How do we intentionally build relationships and get to know people beyond our church family to provide assistance where it’s needed most?”

A: It’s a frustrating fact that communities where middle-and-upper-income people and low-income people live are, in intentional and unintentional ways, separate. Bridging that divide is a key feature of the Chalmers Center’s online course, Are You a Good Neighbor?.

Q: “How can we foster work and build toward a more holistic, just community after this crisis?”

A: Both Made to Flourish and the Chalmers Center have tools that can help with this. A good place to start would be the book and online course Practicing the King’s Economy.

Q: “A lot of the examples given focused on smaller churches. How does benevolence apply in larger churches with extensive budgets and staff?”

A: The Chalmers Center’s upcoming benevolence course addresses this and other dynamics at play in different churches. In general, it’s a question of scale—the same principles apply everywhere, but you can do more benevolence (because of a larger budget), but also go deeper in developmental involvement with people and good case management (because of dedicated staff).

If you don’t feel like we answered you here, or didn’t catch all the nuance of your question, please feel free to reach out directly to Chalmers at webinars@chalmers.org or Made to Flourish at info@madetoflourish.org.

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