For small churches hit by pandemic, Churches Helping Churches Challenge is a ‘blessing’

Worshipers at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
Worshipers at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Philadelphia, Pa. | Facebook/Ark of Safety Christian Church

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of his 35-member Ark of Safety Christian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in March, Senior Pastor Kevin Cropper said it also took a big hit financially.

Although his congregation has remained full of faith and largely unscathed in their physical health, the state shutdown of businesses and economic activity led to a slowdown in financial donations from his members.

“When it comes to tithes and offerings it’s decreased significantly,” Cropper told The Christian Post in a recent interview.

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Before the pandemic, Cropper’s church had already been in a precarious position. Finances were managed “week to week” but somehow, he said, God always seemed to provide. As his church remained shuttered and the pandemic wore on, however, the Pennsylvania preacher still had ministry-related bills coming in.

“You still have mortgage, you still have utilities even though no one is meeting in the church. You still have church insurance. You still have those responsibilities which God holds us accountable for as far as maintaining our responsibilities in being a good steward. So we were really getting hit,” he said.

As he and his wife, Brenda, prayed and brainstormed about how they would keep the ministry afloat they learned about the Churches Helping Churches Challenge while watching the “Roland Martin Unfiltered Daily Digital Show” on YouTube.

The Churches Helping Churches Challenge was launched by the AND Campaign and other Christian organizations on April 3 to urge larger, more stable churches to assist at-risk churches in their own community. It also created the COVID-19 Church Relief Fund to provide $3,000 grants to help congregations in need.

Kevin R. Cropper is the Senior Pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
Kevin R. Cropper is the Senior Pastor of the Ark of Safety Christian Church in Philadelphia, Pa. | Facebook/Ark of Safety Christian Church

Cropper said he had never heard about the program before but he researched it online and quickly submitted an application for help.

“We prayed about it and I submitted the application and I was ‘OK Lord. Whatever you say. You know if you come through that way fine, but if not then you have another way,” Cropper said.

In about three weeks the pastor got his answer from God in the form of a grant from Churches Helping Churches.

“By chance, His hand was there to provide for us and to bless us so that we could be able to take care of some things that we were somewhat late with because of the lack of giving and so forth,” Cropper said.

The Church was also able to provide some support for a food and clothes program they run to help the less fortunate. And despite facing ongoing financial challenges, Cropper said his church will continue to operate virtually and prepare for the day when they can worship together again physically.

“I mean seriously, you don’t know how able God is until you find yourself in a situation that requires His hand and requires the divine providence of God to come through and to bless you,” the thankful pastor explained.

“He provided what He did through Churches Helping Churches. He’s going to provide in other ways. That’s where faith is. He called us into existence. If God said close it down today we would close down today if He said so, but He did not say that,” he continued.

“What we have to do is we have to abide in the regulations and we don’t have a problem with that because it’s about people’s lives. We’re not in this for the money, which is quite obvious, being a small church. We’re in this for the souls, we are in this for the lives of people. And so the fact that we can’t have service right now and we don’t know when we’re going to have service, but you know what we continue to do? We continue to minister and continue to get the word out and trust God to sustain us,” he said.

For Pastor Vilbonheur Joseph of Temple of Refuge in Brooklyn, New York, the pandemic has triggered similar financial challenges for his 75-member congregation.

Pastor Vilbonheur Joseph of Temple of Refuge in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Pastor Vilbonheur Joseph of Temple of Refuge in Brooklyn, N.Y. | Facebook/Temple of Refuge

He recently started an application for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to get help for his ministry but told CP that weeks earlier he learned about the Churches Helping Churches Challenge from Pastor R.A. Vernon of The Word Church in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.

“He told us about it and I quickly acted upon it,” he said.

“We don’t own our building, we lease our building, so we had to hold to our obligations of paying our rent,” he said.

Social programs run by the church were also being impacted and Joseph, who is also a healthcare worker, said he wanted to help several young adults in his congregation who lost jobs.

Compared to the PPP, Joseph described the application process of the Churches Helping Churches Challenge as “not difficult.”

“The information was upfront and the website was easy to navigate so it wasn’t difficult. The only thing we had to do was upload paperwork. A lot of our paperwork was already online so it was easy to upload them to the system to make the application process,” he said.

In about three weeks he said his church was awarded $3,000.

“It helped us to maintain our functionality. I would say the Churches Helping Churches grant that we received it helped us in keeping up with our rent and also we were able to feed up to 100 healthcare workers in the hospital,” he said.

He said right now the PPP loans have been a little more difficult to access because people have to apply through banks for funding instead of directly through the SBA.

“I have a few friends of mine who are pastoring who have also been unable to get them (PPP loans). You keep hearing on the news big companies are receiving $20 million of these loans and people who really need it are not getting it,” he said.

On Monday, the Churches Helping Churches Challenge announced that their May 15 benefit simulcast, hosted by Pulse, drew 258,000 viewers and raised $153,187 from 716 donors. 

Since its launch, the initiative’s Relief Fund has raised a total of $649,620.42 from 1,371 individuals and ministries, with 100% of all funds donated going directly to churches. Some 121 churches have already received $3,000 grants to 121 churches and funds raised this month will ensure that, an additional 95 churches will be grant recipients as well.

In their announcement Monday, the group said that come the end of May, the initiative will focus more on supporting at-risk churches that will be feeling the impact of the pandemic for months to come.

Musical artists such as Lauren Daigle, Lecrae, for King and Country, Kirk Franklin, and TobyMac threw their support behind the May 15 benefit simulcast sponsored by RightNow Media.

Sports stars like Super Bowl champion Benjamin Watson, MLB World Series champion Adam Wainwright, NFL players Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and sports analyst Chris Broussard, as well as Christian leaders Christine Caine, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Jim Daly, and filmmaker Andy Erwin also made appearances at the benefit.

“We have seen that low-income Americans, especially in urban centers, have been more likely to lose their job during this coronavirus economic shutdown. This has greatly impacted the small churches in these communities and many of them could be forced to close,” Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign, said in a statement shared with CP. “When we first thought of this initiative, we could’ve never imagined that this much money could be raised to help so many churches. It’s amazing to watch, and I look forward to seeing this challenge continue with more affluent ministries across the U.S. seeking to serve at-risk churches.”

Watson said he was happy to see churches stepping up to help bear the burdens of fellow congregations.

“It has been great to see so many brothers and sisters in Christ come together to bear each other’s burden and be the church,” he said. “I want to thank the hundreds of donors that stepped up to support smaller at-risk churches, and now we want to urge Christians to keep this spirit of reconciliation going. As the impact of the pandemic will be felt for months, it’s important that Christians and churches look for ways to support congregations that are hurting in their cities.”

The Churches Helping Churches Challenge initiative was launched, in-part, out of a spirit of Gospel-focused racial reconciliation, as most of the churches at-risk of closing are minority and immigrant congregations in urban communities that have been hit hard by the coronavirus economic shutdown the group also noted. Altogether, 1,325 churches have applied for assistance from the COVID-19 Church Relief Fund.

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