Discerning how to put into action “economic wisdom”— the “E in FWE” — can seem daunting to many congregational leaders. How can churches take steps to better integrate economic wisdom throughout their churches and neighborhoods? One method is through job clubs. A job club, or a gathering of job-seekers for mutual support and encouragement, often involves networking and some training — with the focus on effective job-searching skills.
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in the San Francisco Bay Area launched its job club, Career Actions Ministry, in 2008 in the midst of the Great Recession. Founder Steve Murata experienced joblessness, and others in the founding group also suffered through layoffs, so they could empathize with many in their community who were receiving the dreaded pink slip. “Once you’ve had that painful experience, you never forget how stressful and really debilitating the [job-search] process can be,” Murata said in a recent interview.
Murata felt compelled to launch a support group for people inside and outside the church whose lives were dislocated by the recession. “The process of looking for a job can feel very isolating,” he explained. “We wanted to help others going through that.” While the church’s senior leadership supported the idea, the new job club started as a “totally a bottom-up effort,” and continues to be led by volunteers.
Menlo Park’s ministry includes three components: small groups for job seekers (five that currently meet weekly); a monthly large group meeting with speakers addressing various job-search topics and skills; and an online platform called “Career Action” that lists job openings and allows seekers to post resumes. The ministry collaborates with the NOVA Job Center in nearby Sunnyvale, California. The centers provide numerous workshops, one-on-one coaching, comprehensive job listings, and skills assessments, among other resources. While all of these opportunities provide value, they don’t address the significant emotional distress job-seekers often face. Murata wanted Menlo Park’s response to accomplish that. He explains how the church’s ministry provides supplementary services to what the job center offers. “We focus on the long-term spiritual and emotional support. ...The search process can be depressing,” he said. “You’re putting out so many applications and you face a lot of rejections.”
In the current economic climate, the Bureau of Labor statistics reports the average job search takes about 13 weeks, and Murata has seen that for dislocated workers in his community, the process often takes even longer. “It gets really emotional,” he says. “You need some uplift to allow you to maintain your sense of self-worth and stay positive.” He believes local congregations can by provide a powerful service when they step in to help these individuals. “The church provides spiritual and emotional support that can cut through the anxiety and the depression that gives people hope,” he says. The church can help people see their true worth in Christ and give them a new sense of purpose for their work lives.
Research shows churches of various sizes, denominations, and locations host job clubs, and a 2014 Department of Labor study reported more than 600 churches with job clubs. Club meeting formats vary, but typically these clubs offer
- Advice on job searches — what works, what doesn’t
- Job market news — who is hiring, future openings
- Human resources insight — effective resumes and interviews, hiring practices, employer’s needs and expectations, etc.
- Guest speakers — learning from subject matter experts
- Networking opportunities
- Opportunities to share and celebrate success stories
In some cases, participants in the job clubs end up getting involved in the host church. Murata has seen this happen at Menlo Park and thinks job clubs “are an excellent outreach strategy.” Clubs are easy and inexpensive to establish and they address a practical felt need. “The message we share [in the club] is that God does have a plan for you, and it’s good,” Murata said. He shared how one club participant, a nurse, spent a full year seeking a new position before she landed a good job with a new company hiring RNs. She later joined the church to help encourage her faith and perseverance. Today, with a stronger economy, some participants come for guidance about changing jobs, so this job club includes an emphasis on helping people clarify their personal calling and career direction. The hope is to find not just any job, but the right job that best fits with the participant’s unique passions, interests, skills, and gifting.
These days Menlo Park’s ministry has seen a shift in the participants’ demographics. Initially the club involved a mixture of younger and older workers; now older workers are predominate. “There’s not supposed to be age discrimination in the marketplace. It’s illegal,” he explained. “But it’s definitely there.” But the job club is also there, and that support can make all the difference.