We live in a world where people often struggle with various needs. As a result, most churches are presented with requests for financial assistance on a very regular basis. A church that does not have a plan for addressing these needs can easily find itself saying no to people who truly need and deserve help, or find themselves saying yes to people who are taking advantage of the churches good nature. So, it is important that churches have systems in place to fairly and adequately address the various needs they are presented. There are no doubt lots of ways to go about setting up a benevolence ministry in a church, but here is what my church does:
Funding – Every week my church transfers 1% of the general tithes and offerings to the church benevolence fund. This fund is then used to help provide financially for those that are a part of our church family and who are in need. We also provide free food through our churches food bank to anyone. The food bank is provided for through our church, but also through a partnership with the Greater Boston Food Bank and grants from other agencies.
Forms – We use a Benevolence Request Form to get people’s basic information and the gist of what their need is. A few notes on how we use the information on this form:
- How long they have been attending, what service do they attend, and what pastor knows them best – We only help people with financial support who regularly attend our church. There are just too many needs represented in the community to pay everyone’s gas or electric bill. If we are uncertain if they have been coming regularly, we’ll wait to process the request and look for them in church for a week or two.
- Have they requested assistance from the church before – We are pretty willing to help someone the first time they need help, but before they can receive assistance a second time they must take the Financial Peace University class that we offer and meet with a member of our Financial Peace Team.
- Are they working, what do they make, do they tithe, are there adult children in the home – If someone is submitting a benevolence request that makes $75k+ a year we are less likely to help them than someone who is making far less. If there are adult children in the home, and they are not working or contributing, we ask them to start charging their kid’s rent of some kind before we help them out.
- Circumstances that led to them requesting financial aid and what steps are they taking to prevent them from needing assistance again – We will not put good money after bad. If someone needs help with a bill this month, but has no plan to correct the problem so they will not need help with the same bill the next month, then we will not help them out. If they are unemployed, they need to be able to at least say that they are actively looking for a job and name a few places they have applied.
- Attaching the bill – We ask that people attach a copy of the bill that they are asking for help with. We never give people money directly, rather directly pay the vendor to whom the bill is due. Although it should go without saying, we only consider helping with bills that represent needs such as utility bills. We do not help with cell phone bills or other non-necessities. Also, if it is a larger bill, like rent or a mortgage, we do not pay the entire bill but are only able to help with a portion.
Family Connection – We don’t just have people fill out the form and turn it, we personally talk with each person that is applying for help. This is a time to go over the form they submitted, making sure we understand things correctly, but is also a time to talk, pray and be there for them. Behind every form is a person, and often an entire family, so it is important that they know we are here for them as their church family in a way that goes beyond simply responding to their need for financial assistance.
This is the basics of how my church has set up their benevolence ministry for helping with financial needs. What are some other ways you have seen churches address this issue?