In Part I of Re-Learning Church Economics, we saw that that historically, the local church has always been involved in bolstering the economic welfare of people in its community. We also started to explore long-term (vs. short-term) answers to economic needs by looking at resources that assist congregations in pursuing such an endeavor. The Criterion Institute's small group Bible study is one such resource and a great starting point for churches that are interested in impacting their community in this way.
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Another resource is the 2021 book, Jesus on Main Street: Good News through Community Economic Development, a type of reference guide with a number of strategies that can be adopted by congregations. In the introduction, author David E. Kresta differentiates between Traditional Economic Development (TED) and Community Economic Development (CED). "In practice," he says, "many TED's are simply focused on stimulating more economic growth, with very little focus on development and even less on equity." In contrast, the goals of CED are to "1) Improve the economic situation of local residents and local business, and 2) Enhance the community's quality of life as a whole."
In her review of the book, Amy Sherman cites what she sees as the most doable of the ten strategies that Kresta enumerates. Using these categories as a starting point, let's look at some of the ways a church can positively impact its community through economics.
Supporting Microbusinesses: Our post-Covid world has seen an explosion of new entrepreneurs. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a record breaking 5.4 million new small business applications were filed in the U.S. in 2022. Approximately 92% of all businesses fall into the microbusiness category, which is defined as 1-5 employees, many of which are economically vulnerable. In a survey of 1,000 microbusiness owners, more than half (55%) could only cover one month of expenses with their savings, and 15% said they would be unable to cover an expense of $1,000. Given these circumstances, it is apparent how even a small loan to such a business, such as a single mom trying to supplement her day job, could make all the difference.
Implementing a Jobs Program: All people deserve the opportunity to be in a job that pays fairly and treats them with dignity (see the May 5 blog, The Dignity of Work). Assisting people who want to train for new employment can provide them with this opportunity by teaching them both soft and hard skills. For instance, older church members who have experience in business could coach younger people in the art of communication, time management, and problem solving. Members with carpentry or mechanical experience could mentor individuals by teaching them introductory skills over the course of a few weekends. The Chalmers Center offers certification to churches that are interested in pursuing these kind of programs in their communities.
Repurposing Space: Many churches have space that is used, at most, only once a week. Why not utilize this property to benefit the neighborhood? If a church has a kitchen, it could accommodate budding food entrepreneurs. Classrooms could be used for teaching the soft skills mentioned above or for different types of certification. With the rise in co-working spaces that charge for this service, a church could offer those persons who need help with their business expenses a place from which to work for free, complete with Wi-Fi. There are many online articles on space sharing from which to get more ideas, as well as the Partners for Sacred Space website.
Intentionally Purchasing: How many times have we seen a sign that says "Buy Local"? While this purchasing habit is something all of us should be doing on our own, it is important for the local church to be doing it as well, in order to show solidarity with its neighbors. Sometimes this might mean a bit more searching for a needed product, and possibly a bit higher cost than the online option. With careful planning, though, a congregation can support the local economy while also keeping its budget in line.
Advocacy and Organizing: This option requires the local church to have its ear to the ground and also to be talking with its neighbors. When various opportunities arise in the community, such as cleaning up a revitalizing business district or the formation of a community benefit agreement (CBA) when new development comes to town, the church can join in the effort to benefit everyone. Designating a member liaison to keep the rest of the congregation aware of such matters would go a long way toward not missing such opportunities.
These are all great ways in which a church can start assisting with CED. For additional ideas on how to become a part of this very necessary outreach, visit the Faith + Finance website, the Christian Community Development Association website, and see the Economics for Church Leaders article on the Gospel Coalition website.
In Part I of this post, I mentioned how I used to think about the Church's involvement in these kind of programs, and how I have since changed my mind. Though they often do not have a straight-forward evangelism component, it is the love shared through them that can draw people to the local church and, ultimately, to God. At Better Capitalism, we hope to see more and more congregations adopt this vital form of reaching out to others as a part of their ministry.
What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at blog@PartnershipEconomics.com. We will give a thoughtful response.
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