To help small churches throughout the U.S. affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a coalition of leading Christian groups has announced it will extend the Churches Helping Churches Challenge and host a major online benefit simulcast to raise additional support for at-risk congregations.
The challenge, launched last month by the AND Campaign and other Christian organizations, has created a Coronavirus At-Risk Church Relief Fund that provides $3,000 grants to small churches that are at risk of closing within the next three months due to a steep loss in financial giving.
The initial goal of the fund was to raise $500,000 during the month of April from Christian donors, foundations and large churches. Over the course of the month, the challenge raised $431,000 from 471 donors and identified 125 churches for grants.
In a statement to The Christian Post, those behind the challenge said the initiative will continue throughout May, as “need far outweighs the available funds, as just over 1,200 churches have applied for assistance.”
“I have been blown away by the generosity of the body of Christ, but I have been overwhelmed and saddened by the great need that exists with many churches and communities across America,” said Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign. “We serve a God that is the hope of the world, and He is moving and ministering through many of these small churches. Now is the time for us to come together to bear each other’s burdens.”
To help at-risk churches survive amid the pandemic, partner organization Pulse will host an online benefit simulcast on May 15 to raise additional support for these congregations.
Performing artists for this simulcast will include Lecrae, Lauren Daigle, Toby Mac, and many others yet to be named. Former NFL star Benjamin Watson, national spokesman for the initiative, will also participate in the special event.
The simulcast, also sponsored by RightNow Media and Reach Records, will be broadcast at: TogetherGeneration.com/CHC. All proceeds will go directly to at-risk churches, and more churches will be identified for grants based on the available funds that are raised.
"Pulse has always existed to work in, through, and for the local church. And now, in the midst of this pandemic, our local churches are suffering — especially those in urban and immigrant communities,” said Nick Hall, founder of Pulse and visionary for Together 2020. “It's time for us all to come together to meet this urgent need."
Though the federal government is offering $350 billion in assistance to small businesses, as well as churches and nonprofits, through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in late March, Watson told CP that many churches might not receive assistance until it’s too late.
“A $3,000 grant may not sound like much, but oftentimes, it’s enough to get some of these smaller churches through the next week or the next month,” Watson said. “Many churches are just like small businesses that are struggling right now. While some may receive assistance from the government, it may take months to reach churches.”
A recent Barna Group survey revealed that 6% to 9% of pastors are unsure or not confident that their church will survive the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 42% of pastors said giving was "significantly" down and 28% said it was "slightly" down. Only around a quarter said it stayed the same.
Additionally, nearly a quarter of American churches (22%) have already reduced staff hours, reduced compensation or laid off employees.
“The Bible talks a lot about caring for the ‘least of these,’ and in many ways, that’s referring to the church,” Watson said. “As the body of Christ, we all suffer when one suffers. Many churches won’t make it through this. As believers, it’s our honor and duty to support one another. This initiative is a way we can do just that.
When there’s any kind of economic downturn, minorities and low-income communities are most impacted, Watson said, adding that the pandemic presents a unique opportunity for larger, more stable churches to assist at-risk churches in their own communities.
“Many of the churches that are at risk are in lower-income communities,” he said. “Situations like this hit them the hardest, fastest, and the effects last much longer. These communities suffer the most as opposed to the general public because they don’t have the economic buffer that some people in the country have.
“When it comes to bridging the divide, Galatians talks about how we’re all one body, meaning our actions need to come together with our beliefs. Ironically, something like this is an opportunity to do that. We’re talking about supporting those in our own communities, those we walk by or see at events. How do we enter into their lives in a time of need and give them bread?”
On the Church Relief website, the Churches Helping Churches Challenge also provides guidance and best practices for how large churches can pursue this type of outreach. The COVID-19 Church Relief Fund grants are managed and administered by the National Christian Foundation.