You wouldn’t know it bywatching the Nasdaq, but scores of Americans are experiencing deep economic pain. Even as the economy begins to claw back lost jobs, millions of others are losing work with little tono hope of a return.
While politicians, policy makers, and the Fed scheme the best way to revive the economy and support the hardest hit Americans, an often overlooked group of institutions plays a vital role in the economic recovery: churches.
Ever since Max Weber penned The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905, economists have debated what role religion plays in the economy. It turns out, quite a bit. According toresearch by Brian Grim and Melissa Grim, published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, faith communities in the United States contribute 1.2 trillion to the economy each year.
The research, which includes religious congregations ($418 billion), religious institutions ($303 billion), and faith-based or faith-related businesses ($437 billion), sheds particular light on how religious faith can play an important societal role in the economic recovery.
Far from being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, faith communities are concerned to participate in economic growth. You’ve likely heard about a manipulative offshoot of Christianity called the prosperity gospel. This isn’t that. Rather, congregations are motivated by a concern for the wellbeing of all people, especially those who are disproportionately vulnerable in times of economic hardship.
How can faith communities participate in economic vitality and recovery?
First, congregations are embedded in neighborhoods and are economic actors in their local community. According to Grim, congregations spend $84 billion annually paying staff and purchasing various goods and services, the vast majority of which is in the local community.
In the early months of the pandemic, Chris Brooks, senior pastor at Woodside Bible Church outside of Detroit, Michigan, invited his congregation of 10,000 members to participate in “take-out Tuesdays,” an initiative to support local restaurants deeply hurt by the shutdown. As a result, thousands of people, motivated by faith, have intentionally focused their spending for the good of their community.
Churches can direct their dollars not only by generous giving, but also wisely allocated spending. Pastor Brooks understands that generosity and loving one’s neighbor can come through economic exchange.
Churches provide thick relational networks that offer relational support and an economic safety net. The pandemic has forced nearly 45 million people to apply to receive jobless benefits in the past several months. Even with record numbers of people receiving help, astudy by One Fair Wage showed that as many as 44% of restaurant workers were denied benefits. If that number is even half right, it represents a massive amount of people falling through the cracks.
Watermark Church in Dallas, with a weekly attendance of 11,000 people, encourages all members to join a small group of 8-12 individuals to care for one another and grow spiritually. When the pandemic hit, Watermark asked all members of small groups to pay attention to economic needs of individuals in their group, and to redirect support normally given to the church to those in need.
With over 360,000 congregations in the United States, these kinds of organic safety nets relieve pressure from local, state, and federal governments, and provide support for people who would otherwise face dire circumstances.
Congregations play a role in helping people connect religious compassion with economic capacity.Research has demonstrated that religious communities impact economic outcomes by forming people to value austerity alongside generosity. In religious terms, wealth is to be built by virtuous exchange, and to be stewarded for the good of others.
The well-known biblical story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) demonstrates not only heartfelt compassion for a helpless wounded man who had been robbed, but also wisely stewarded economic capacity — the Samaritan chose to pay for all expenses incurred for the man to be healed. The Samaritan had stewarded and built economic capacity to respond compassionately. Faith communities form congregants who view any possessions they have as assets to be stewarded for the good of others.
Finally, churches will play a role in the economic recovery by promoting economic justice for those on the margins. Much has been made of theracial wealth gaps in our country, and for good reason. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered for his push for civil rights—many know the oft quoted line from his “I Have a Dream” speech:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
And a beautiful line it is. However, it should not be lost that the message of King’s speech, given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, put expanding economic opportunities for Black Americans alongside freedom from police brutality and mass incarceration. In that same speech, he wrote,
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation… One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity…We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one…We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
The Bible is replete with cries for economic justice and expanding economic opportunity. For example, the gleaning laws in the Hebrew scriptures (Lev 19:9-10) called for those with land to give economic opportunity by allowing widows, orphans, and foreigners, to work to collect grain in the fields so they could provide for their families.
What has this looked like in faith communities? A church might see its physical building as an economic asset, offering office space for aspiring entrepreneurs looking for an affordable place to start their business, likeRose City Church in Pasadena, California. A church might use a building project as an opportunity to hire those in need of work in their communities, like Hope Community Church in Woodlawn, Illinois, who hired 50 workers off the streets over the course of two years. It might look like a church who identified an at risk population inthose leaving the foster care system and started a cafe business to hire them, give them training and meaningful work, and a chance to grow skills that will serve them for years to come.
And these examples don’t include the scores of people of faith who are commissioned out of their congregations, and who bring a commitment to expand economic opportunity in their scattered work environments.
As we work to put the pieces of the fractured economy back together again, not merely returning to life as normal, but working for a more just and inclusive economy, the words of John Perkins, the civil rights activist, come to mind, “People need two things: Jesus and job.” If Perkins is right, the local church on the corner is not merely a place to find Jesus — it is a key outpost in our collective quest for a renewed economy.
About the Author
Matt Rusten serves as the executive director for Made to Flourish. Rusten received his master of divinity degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served in churches in North Dakota, the Chicago area, Kansas City, and most recently as pastor of spiritual formation at Blackhawk Church in Madison, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Margi, and their daughter, Olivia, and son, Owen, live in Kansas.
One of our great privileges as a church is that we can partner with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are also doing the work of multiplying churches, disciples, and leaders. Together we are advancing this mission to multiply across Kansas City and around the world.
Our partner Eleventh Hour Network, focuses on evangelism and church planting among Muslims in northeastern Kenya. Here is just one recent example of how God is powerfully at work. —
I recently witnessed a testimony that moved my heart so deeply, I had to share it with you.
Two nights ago at the Evangelical Outreach, a possessed young man entered the church where we camped around midnight. He had escaped from his parent’s home, running through thorny bushes in the dark until he collapsed inside our compound. We ran to see what was going on, yet were rightly afraid that the conflict zone surrounding us had erupted.
After the excitement quieted, one of the evangelists recognized the young man as a student from the nearby university who had dropped out a few years ago due to mental illness. The young man’s Muslim parents searched for healing among the well-known witchdoctors, healers, and by attending sacrifices, yet his situation worsened.
Finally, the Holy Spirit got a hold of him to break the chain his parents used to keep him from wandering away from home. It’s then that the Lord led him to run to the church where we were gathering.
We felt the Lord brought him to us at such a time as this for healing. We agreed to pray for him the whole night.
God, very rich in His mercy, set him free from the demonic spirit. For the past two days, this young man has helped set up Jesus film equipment and joined in morning prayer, fasting and sharing his testimony during fellowship.
Yesterday, his parents came to see him in the church. To their amazement, he told them he did not want to go back home. He wanted to stay in the church with Christian families. Remember, he is a Muslim.
Shortly after that, I lead this young man to accept Christ, and the Lord restored his health and state of mind. This afternoon, he went out with the outreach team as a translator.
Indeed, there is nothing too hard for the Lord!
Kindly continue to pray for safety as we travel, and more stories of the transformative power of God.
Thank you for your generosity that allows our church family to partner with the work that God is doing around the world. May we learn from these partners in ministry who are faithfully bearing witness to the good news that Jesus is alive, and that death has been defeated!
The outreach team at our Leawood Campus has been seeking a deeper understanding of God’s purposes as we commit to serving those in our community, city, and world with the love of Christ Jesus. To help us in this quest, we’ve been studying Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God’s People.
Dr. Wright describes the church as “a missional community of those who have responded to, and entered, the kingdom of God by repentance and faith in Christ, and who now seek to live as transformed and transforming communities of reconciliation and blessing in the world.”
This beautiful description is captivating and deeply Scriptural. What does it mean to be a community of blessing?
The motif of blessing is woven throughout the pages of Scripture from Genesis 1 forward. God blesses his creation, meaning he bestows his favor, protection and divine empowerment to enable his creatures to fulfill their calling (to be fruitful and multiply) and to his human image bearers (to rule and to reign and to cultivate and keep). Most importantly, the state of blessing is found in a dependent, personal relationship with God…to be one of His children.
We know all too well that this original state of blessedness was shattered when sin entered the world. Curses resulted and relationships were fractured, including our relationship to the earth, with one another, and ultimately with our Creator. However, God’s desire to bless His creation remained and by Genesis 12, we enter into His redemption plan to redeem and restore His world to a state of blessedness.
God approaches Abram (Abraham) and commands him to go to a new land where he will be blessed. “And I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [emphasis added]
God blesses Abraham, and in turn, Abraham’s family will become a blessing. This is God’s multiplication plan of blessing in this renewal of creation in Abraham. He and his descendants are blessed (find favor with God) and, in turn, as God’s image bearers, they will bless others. Blessing is missional!
God chooses to mediate His blessing to humanity through humanity.
Paul deepens this truth in Galatians 3:8-9:
“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham the believer.”
How? Verses 13-14:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
In Christ Jesus, we may experience God’s blessing. In fact, Ephesians 1 declares that God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (v. 3) Further, we are told that God will one day unite all things in Christ, bringing heaven and earth together (v. 10).
This is where we find ourselves in the story. We’ve entered the kingdom of blessedness, knowing the future of ultimate blessedness when Christ is reigning over all; but knowing, in the meantime, that we remain in the still fallen world, where we proclaim our King and demonstrate His righteousness.
“To be Christian is to be obliged to engage the world, pursuing God’s restorative purposes over all of life,” James Davison Hunter.
At Christ Community, we partner in our city and world with communities of blessing, such as: The Hope Center, who provides healthcare, education and leadership training for youth on our city’s east side; Advice and Aid, which brings emotional, practical, and spiritual support to women facing an unplanned pregnancy in the KC area; the Shyira Diocese, which provides pastoral care and community development in Rwanda; Mission Adelante, which serves immigrants and refugees in Kansas City by meeting their needs and sharing the gospel; and Eleventh Hour Network, which facilitates leadership training, relief and development, and church-planting in Kenya.
Find out ways each campus of Christ Community is seeking to partner with communities of blessing:
We invite you to pray and consider the call to be a community of blessing in your part of the city as we look forward to the day when “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:3)
In December of 2016, one Christ Community member took a bold step. She was convicted. And this conviction found its deepest pang not in how broken she saw the world but rather in how clearly she understood her calling.
Urban and underprivileged children should have opportunities to explore and experience music and the arts.
God is the ultimate Creator, who originally created a good and beautiful world for us to live in. As His image-bearers, we are also called to create beauty in our world.
Christians are called to seek the common good of our city.
And so Sara Forsythe gathered a team of Christ Community folks in collaboration with Mission Adelante staff to birth a weeklong Arts Camp.
For the past two years, this week-long camp has been a catalyst for discipling children in knowing our creative God and honing their creative gifts as image-bearers. Check out her recap of this last year’s camp here. It’s beautiful to see Christ Community volunteers and financial support leveraged in this common-good initiative.
Not only is the Arts Camp a beautiful picture of our robust partnership with Mission Adelante, but it keeps growing in impact. Now, throughout the year, children are growing in the arts, developing leadership skills, and finding their place to serve others in their community.
Gissell Vasquez is an associate ministry director at Mission Adelante. She leads the Adelante Arts Community year round, and one child who has been impacted through Adelante Arts is Prishmila. Gissell writes:
“When she began attending Arts Community, you could tell that she was one of those charming and shy girls that would not answer a question if not asked directly. Not only did she never miss a class, she was the first to arrive.”
But over time, something happened:
“…As I was helping the students one by one to remember the names of the guitar strings and naming the new chords we were practicing, this girl stepped in and said to me, ‘Do you want me to help you? I can work with my partner while you are doing it with the rest.’ It was a surprise and a joy for me having her offer to help. Immediately I said, ‘Yes, of course, go for it!’ That night and for the rest of the trimester she became not only a student but a helper. She is becoming an artist with a potential to be developed beyond our program and she is turning into a young leader with the most important leadership skill: a servant heart.
I’m blessed to have such an amazing group of students that come every Monday night to enjoy the arts, to share life together, and to learn about Jesus.”
It’s one of our great joys as a church to partner with such excellent organizations like Mission Adelante, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. If you aren’t familiar with their work, Mission Adelante longs to see “a growing multicultural community of disciples making disciples, where immigrants and others are thriving and using our gifts together to transform our neighborhood and the world for the glory of Jesus Christ.”
Whether helping immigrants and refugees sharpen their English speaking skills, cultivating the arts with emerging artists, cultivating a space for community support, sharing the gospel, or providing jobs through Adelante Thrift, Kansas City is better for it and Jesus is glorified in it.
Partnership is always more than just a relationship, but never less. And every relationship has to start somewhere. If you are curious about how you too can get engaged with the amazing work at Mission Adelante but you don’t have a ton of time, try this. One good first step would be to coordinate a time for you or a group to serve at Adelante Thrift. If you would like to schedule an opportunity to serve, you can go here.
If you’re looking for more robust engagement, whether in mentoring or teaching in ESL, check out those opportunities here. And if you have artistic gifts and hearing the story of Prishmila inspired you, Gissell is always looking for teachers and mentors in the arts. Reach out for information here.
Think about it. Can you imagine if a whole generation of immigrants and refugees were affirmed in their dignity as image-bearers? Imagine if the most vulnerable in KC were empowered to cultivate their God-given capacity to create where God has them today? It would make for a better city. A better tomorrow for us all.
May we not just be broken by what we see but convicted by who we’re called to be.
Keyvan was an orphan in Iran and always wondered, “Who is my family?” At age 18 he began searching. He grew desperate and decided to pray to Jesus, “Who is my family?” Soon after, he found his family. This experience led Keyvan to give his life to Jesus.
There are literally thousands and thousands of people like Keyvan all across Iran. They have had some sort of experience that has led them to become a Christian. But this is not the end of their story. It is just the beginning.
In time Keyvan got connected with Elam Ministries and was invited to a conference. There he said, “I have believed in Jesus for two years now, but I keep sleeping around. I don’t feel this is right, and I am miserable.”
The leader looked at him with love and said, “Keyvan, Jesus loves you, and He is calling you to deeper repentance. You must give up your former life.” That evening Keyvan came forward for prayer and repentance. Later that night he was baptized.
This is discipleship. While it is wonderful that people are finding eternal salvation in Christ, without discipleship, people are left in their mess and misery.
There are now hundreds of thousands of Iranian believers all across Iran. Many more are in neighboring countries. This new season has many joys but it also comes with many challenges.
Elam Ministries is working in this region, and is an outreach partner with Christ Community’s Leawood Campus. Elam is at a critical juncture. Millions could be added to the Persian-speaking church. However, discipleship must keep pace with evangelism.
For this to happen, the whole church must be mobilized to be disciple-makers. Elam has given much prayer and thought to how they can enable ordinary believers to do effective one-on-one discipleship. Here is what is being done…
In January 2108, Elam launched a new one-on-one discipleship initiative called Safar (Persian for “journey”) to mobilize the Persian-speaking church on a larger scale than ever before.
The trained leaders serving on the ground are calling Safar a game-changer. Drawing on decades of experience in discipling Iranians, Safar pairs a new believer one-on-one with a hamsafar (co-journeyer) for the first 100 days of the new believer’s life. There are around 30 steps in the journey, one for every three to four days. The process is deeply biblical, relational, and practical.
Already, many have been mobilized as hamsafars, and this discipleship method is being used in Iran and other countries in that region, as well as among Persian-speaking refugees in Europe. Deep discipleship is taking place, and new believers are growing in their faith.
The impact has already been profound. “After just four steps in Safar, Reza opened up more than in the previous six months of discipling him,” remarked one hamsafar.
Now believers are reading their Bibles regularly. One pastor said, “It is encouraging to see so many engaging with the Scriptures.” People are grasping their identity in Christ, learning to forgive others, and overcoming fears.
Evangelism is increasing and Elam is regularly hearing testimonies of people coming to faith as those being discipled grow in courage and ability to witness to family and friends.
Will you pray for this growing church in the Persian-speaking region? Please pray that those who are new believers will be assigned a discipler to walk them through the 100-day journey to know the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him as a disciple.
Coleman Barnes was a typical high school student. Involved in deep friendships, focused on class work, participated in extracurriculars, preparing for the future after graduation. Coleman was not so typical in the fact that, at the young age of 18, he had already begun to leave a legacy of lasting impact: Coleman worked to make a way for five kids in Jamaica to attend school for the next five years.
Coleman traveled with Student Ministries from Christ Community’s Leawood Campus in partnership with Won by One for two summers to Harmons, Jamaica. While there, he fell in love with the people, the food, and the kids they served. As he spoke with local parents, they shared how inaccessible education was for them. They shared how they had to decide whether to send their kids to school or put food on the table.
Coleman could not imagine the cost of such a choice. Food or education? If families picked food on the table, their children’s futures were limited; if they chose education, their children might starve. It was a dangerous cycle of poverty that represented heartache.
One morning Coleman was talking with a Jamaican woman named Sandra. She teared up as she told him the news that her little daughter had been sponsored for school. She was overwhelmed with joy that her daughter would have an opportunity she never had: to receive an education so someday she could be able to provide for her family and break this poverty cycle. As Coleman saw how much school sponsorship meant to this family, he knew he wanted to get involved.
Coleman left Jamaica after that week of serving, but the desire to make a difference didn’t leave him. Challenged in one of his leadership classes at school to make an impact on behalf of others, Coleman immediately thought of Jamaica and the idea of educational scholarships. As a high school student, he did not have the money to sponsor a child, even at $40 a month. So he enlisted a couple of friends, Laken and Jack, to help begin dreaming of a way for students at Blue Valley West High School to collectively make a difference in the lives of kids in Jamaica. Heart for Hope was born with the idea to have each class at school raise money to sponsor a child in Jamaica and make it a friendly competition to raise $5,000.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack had a three-pronged approach to getting five Jamaican students sponsored for two years of school. First, English Language Arts classes at every grade level would introduce, by video, the students to the Jamaican child their class would be sponsoring. These videos would provide a face, a name, and a story to build connection and motivate that class to bring their loose change and dollars to sponsor their child. Second, they sold Heart for Hope T-shirts for $10 and encouraged everyone attending the basketball game that week to wear them and make a schoolwide statement of hope. They sold over 450 shirts. Third, they put together a silent auction of donated items at that basketball game.
Watch the video that Coleman and his friends put together for their fundraiser.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack were blown away as fellow students brought more than loose change to the donation jars. Students gave $10 and $20 bills and the money began adding up. The ambitious goal of $5,000 in two weeks to support five kids for two years of education was completely shattered! Coleman and his peers were able to raise $12,000 to help five kids— Rahein, Atalia, Aleana, Victor, and Sashante—for five years each through school, which genuinely changed their lives.
Coleman said, “We were truly blown away by the response we had for Heart for Hope, and it’s been so cool for me to see our school come together and get behind kids they don’t know and will never meet.”
Coleman has seen God on display in the hearts of fellow students who said: I want to make a difference, and I want to provide hope to these kids and make a tangible impact on their lives. For Coleman, it’s been unbelievable to see the incredible generosity of his peers and God’s faithfulness through this whole process.
“Heart for Hope,” written by Dawn Heckert, originally appeared as an article in Homefront magazine, June 2018 edition, pp. 38-39.