A Team Effort to Sustain Churches
The CRCNA’s COVID-19 Church Engagement Fund has just finished its second round of financial assistance for churches and ministries that have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to help the churches most financially affected by the pandemic get through this challenging period and let them know they are not on their own,” said Nathan Rauh-Bieri, program manager for CRCNA’s Financial Shalom.
“Through these grants, we’ve tried to give churches a buffer. Our hope is that this assistance provides them some breathing room and a chance to think creatively how they want to worship and pursue ministry as the pandemic continues,” Rauh-Bieri added.
In this second round of funding, churches that received a grant were located in 28 U.S. states. These churches have received support from the denomination through Financial Shalom. Also participating in this project are Resonate Global Mission, and Back to God/Reframe ministries along with a range of other ministries.
Overall, the program has given out about $720,000 in total funding.
In the first round of grants, the CRCNA distributed amounts totaling around $550,000 in aid to more than 125 churches.
These grants helped to fund pastors’ salaries, online worship services, food banks, outreach in neighborhoods, shelter for the homeless and, in at least one case, funeral expenses.
Here are a few churches that have been helped through additional funding:
Latin American CRC
Located in Anaheim, Calif., the Latin American CRC received support from all three ministries — Financial Shalom, Resonate Global Mission and Back to God Ministries International. All of these ministries are involved in the Church Engagement Fund.
Mirtha Villafane, a pastor at the Latin American CRC, said “our tithes have dropped …. Several of our members are not working and they are not receiving any kind of help. In fact, they have asked us for help but we are not able to help anyone."
With the grants, they were able to set up online services and to help fund some general church operations. "The Latin America CRC is a small congregation with 70-80 Latinos (majority first generations),” said Villafane.
“We have been facing financial struggles for a long time, but with [COVID] of course it increased,” said Villafane. “We applied for the government funds but we weren’t approved, because we don’t have a payroll. The funds helped us to cover salaries and pay rent for two months. Also we improved our broadcast on Facebook and Youtube with the new video camera we bought."
It turns out that outside assistance from CRCNA ministries has spurred something of a mini revival at the Latin American CRC.
“We opened a prayer group through the Facebook page that is doing so good,” said Villifane. “In two weeks we got many members to join the group.”
The purpose of the group is to participate in a short, 10-minute devotional and after that to pray for people impacted by the virus.
“This prayer group is led by different leaders of the church. Every night we have an average between 70 - 80 people connected at 7:30 p.m.”
But the mini revival doesn't stop there.
“The reaching out of our weekly services has been incredible too; we have had the chance to reach out to thousands of people,” she said.
“The average of the weekly views in our services is between 1.400 and 700 every week… We are amazed! Never inside our four walls we would have reached so many people.”
Offering services online has meant that they, said Villafane, “are not only reaching the community around the church, but we are reaching beyond our imagination. We have had responses from Europe, Caribbean, South and Central America. The Lord has surprised us,”said Villifane.
The Church Engagement Fund has also helped Lifestream CRC in Artesia Calif., keep its ministries available during this time in which people are asked to wear masks and stay at home as much possible,
"The denomination's grant is like eating manna from heaven. It was very helpful. And the congregation's view of the denomination changed,” said Sang Moon, a pastor at Lifestream.
“We worship online. Total offering income has been reduced to a quarter. Our church was able to use the grant to help support church rentals of their facility.
“In fact,” said Moon, “our church is a congregation of three different churches” — comprised of people of various backgrounds — and none were taking the denomination seriously. However, with the help of this denomination (grant), the thoughts of our congregation have changed.”
But at the same time the church has faced challenges.
“Our church will work together to keep the current church without firing workers. Currently, I have no time to think of anything else.
“The church is only doing its best to preserve the condition before [COVID],” said Moon.
Hesed Community Church
Hesed Community Church has received grants through the Church Engagement Fund and Resonate Global Missions.
Located in Detroit, Mich., the church has implemented a four-pronged approach toward COVID-19 relief/rehabilitation, said Mark VanAndel, the pastor:
“First, we have supported food security through providing food to our neighbors in conjunction with other churches and community partners.” said VanAndel, pastor of the church.
“Second, we have encouraged access to ongoing educational efforts for children and families through providing necessary technology (tablets, chrome-books, and internet access).”
Third, said VanAndel, the church, with help from the grants, has assisted people in their church and local neighborhoods with benevolence requests such as rent, utilities, medical costs, and burial services as necessary.”
Fourth, he added, Hesed has “initiated trauma and grief counseling for people in our church community who are struggling during this time (and beyond).”
Some of the funding has also gone towards providing for staff salaries during this time of fundraising instability.
VanAndel added: "Our ministry engagement in our community started long before COVID-19 and will continue beyond the development of a vaccine. The neighborhoods in Detroit that we live and serve within are in need of ongoing investment from a variety of sources.”
John Sideco, pastor at The Filipino-American CRC in Jersey City, N.J., said through the Church Engagement Fund they have helped to sustain its ministry to the homeless.
“Because of the grants, members were able to continue the homeless ministry…. We were able to still pay our rent for the church building ….”
Because of the grants, said Sideco, the church has also been able to keep its commitment to help to fund churches overseas with whom they have a relationship.
These are but a few of the churches who are ministering amid trying circumstances with reduced funding, and through them God is bearing fruit. And although the Church Engagement Fund has aided such churches over the past three months, it is now almost fully disbursed — and the pandemic’s effects on congregations continue.
In this video, CRNCA Executive Director Colin Watson invites churches who currently have more than enough to prayerfully consider contributing to the Fund. COVID-19 is an opportunity to come together and help one another in the CRCNA’s covenant family. Could your church play a part?