Should Churches Help Each Other?

Photo by Kevin Bauman

Sometimes, when one church is struggling, another church helps out.  One church I interviewed was a new ethnic church development that was given a building, basically for free, from a church that died.  But we all know you get what you pay for, and the building they got had  more than a few structural problems.  They received some support for the pastor’s salary from their denomination, but the building was weighing them down with repair bills.

After developing a partnership with a church in another city, the partner church raised $50,000 to assist the new church development with the purchase of a new boiler.

And here’s another story from the Huffington Post about a church that stood up for their belief in the rights of gay and lesbian people and, because of the ensuing controversy, has lost members and is on the brink of collapse.  In their case, a large church in another state reached out to support them with a financial gift that will keep them open a few more months.

A small town church I know of held a meeting with its twenty or so members to decide on whether they should close their doors.  They shared a pastor with a more lively church 20 miles away.  At the 11th hour, the sister church offered to subsidize the dying church to keep it going a few more years.  While this was a good outcome for the 20 members, it will not be enough funding to truly strengthen their ministry.  Is this like offering “life support” to a church that would otherwise die?

I sometimes feel that our healthier churches could be assisting small ministries that are providing a unique witness in their communities.  These might include churches serving the poor, college students, gay and lesbian Christians or other  underserved groups.  Or it might include churches that have a unique theological footprint in their communities.

However, there may be times when accepting help from another church isn’t the best course of action.  Is the gift designed to sustain a meaningful mission?  Or is it just a way of avoiding the inevitable fact that a ministry has become unsustainable?  How do you know the difference?

I struggle with this: is it a good idea for churches to help each other or not?  What do you think?

5 responses to “Should Churches Help Each Other?

  1. You know what I find to be wonderful? I don’t know if you heard, but St. Anthony’s Catholic School was set on fire right before Ash Wednesday, and the school is not capable of being a school til they rebuild, but I thought what was cool was that Grace Lutheran, (ELCA) is lending their Sunday School rooms to the St. Anthony students and staff until they rebuild. You don’t see too many Catholic/ Lutheran happenings like go on, I just think it’s wonderful that there is enough peace between the two to do that.

  2. Thanks for reminding me of that, Josh. That’s a good example of churches helping churches. Plus, one of the ELCA members told me he was praying that the whole thing would help the ELCA congregation pull together, because they have been divided lately. Maybe strengthening another church will help them strengthen their own.

    • Oh, and another detail of that story: that ELCA church is no longer ELCA. They left the denomination after the ELCA opened the door to gay/lesbian ordination. This is, I gather, one of the sources of division in that church that has weakened it.

  3. I hear your questions, Gail, and struggle with the same concerns. I have seen several instances where new neighborhoods, new circumstances have taken place not long after a church has closed it’s doors. Had it been able to “survive” for just a few more years, there may have been new possibilities. In the meantime some non-denominational church comes in and takes over. (sigh…) If only…

  4. I hear your concern, Wayne. But maybe that non-denominational church knew something about taking advantage of fertile soil that we missed. Maybe sometimes a church should close its doors and the denomination should immediately plant a new church in the same place. That did happen a few years ago at Grace (formerly Mt. Tabor) in Milwaukee.

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