Small churches and the COVID-19 crisis

Covid 19, Podcast

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The Covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for American society and for the American church.  The economy has ground to a virtual halt, arts and entertainment have been severely limited, and congregational meetings have been restricted for perhaps the first time in our history.  Still, all of this pales in comparison to the extraordinary number of people who are sick and dying in our land.

But in the midst of all of the pain, some opportunities have emerged from this crisis.  And as important as it is for the church to minister to the pain, it is also important that we leverage the opportunities.  That’s why I’m glad that the AND Campaign is leading the charge to take advantage of one such opportunity by creating a space for larger, more affluent church communities and smaller congregations in financially challenged neighborhoods to engage in deep, meaningful fellowship.

The effort is called the Churches Helping Churches Initiative.  The aim is to help small churches throughout the U.S. that are at risk of closing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  The AND Campaign – in partnership with several Christian leaders and organizations – has organized the initiative which will partner more affluent churches with urban churches in low-income communities and provide a limited number of direct grants to congregations in need.  It is laudable work to meet immediate financial needs and help vulnerable congregations survive this present crisis. But I think that the initiative has the potential to do much more.

One of the most important conversations that have taken place in the body of Christ over the last few decades is the conversation around racial reconciliation.  The American church (like every other aspect of American life) was badly damaged by the sin of chattel slavery and the race-based oppression that followed in its wake.  The church, on the whole, has realized that the divide between the races that seems to persist in the broader culture has absolutely no place in the church.  Bridging that gap has become one of the great efforts of the church in our generation. 

In our upcoming book, “Compassion & Conviction” (set to be released this July from InterVarsity Press), I join my fellow AND Campaign Executive Committee members, Justin Giboney and Michael Wear in devoting a full chapter to racial reconciliation.  In that chapter, we urge churches to take practical steps toward racial reconciliation.  One of the most important steps that we recommend is building a relationship with a congregation that has a very different  demographic makeup than your own.  Reconciliation can’t take deep root as long we deal with one another through caricatures and second-hand reflections.  But even as we make the recommendation, we understand that this can be a difficult thing to do in practice.  Churches are usually embedded in communities and communities with different demographic profiles are often isolated from one another. 

The Churches Helping Churches Initiative has mobilized an incredibly diverse network of churches and leaders toward a common mission.  The diversity in the coalition will lead to diversity in participation.  This initiative has the potential to catalyze dozens, perhaps even hundreds of these cross-community bonds that are so essential to true reconciliation in the church. 

Perhaps these relationships will open the door to more conversation and deeper engagement.  Maybe cross-cultural, bi-partisan, and economically diverse coalitions will begin to form in the church (something that would truly confound the world of politics and government).  Perhaps those coalitions will begin to understand each other and to work together to chip away at some of the underlying systems of injustice that continue to jeopardize certain communities generation after generation.  Not under the banner of a political party or ideology, but in the name of Jesus, with fidelity to the scripture and Christlike love toward all people.

Or maybe, I’m just dreaming.

There’s only one way to find out.  So, I’m urging you to participate in the Churches Helping Churches Initiative.  Maybe all you’ll get is the joy of participating in the grace of giving that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 (as giver or receiver as the case may be).  But, I think there’s a real chance that you can get a lot more out of it.  We just might strengthen the whole church and move our society forward in the process.

Chris Butler is the Senior Leader of the Chicago Embassy Church Network. He has been involved in several efforts to improve educational equity in Chicago including service as the founding Executive Director of Parent Power Chicago and is a co-author of the forthcoming book from InterVarsity Press, Compassion & Conviction.

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