Should Churches Accept Government Funds During COVID19?

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Several congregations have reached out to the Christian Reformed Church in North America offices to ask the following question:

"In the face of COVID19, our government is offering several grants and other financial supports for businesses and charitable organizations. Technically, our church or classis would qualify. Is it ethical for us to apply for these funds? Wouldn't it be better for us to leave those government supports for food banks or other charities who need it more? Does applying for these funds cross any boundaries between an appropriate separation of church and state? And might it discourage our members from expressing their thankfulness to God through their own offerings?"

Peter Elgersma, from Community CRC in Richmond Hill, Ont., answers this question in this way:

Like many other Churches across the country, Community CRC in Richmond Hill, Ontario, was caught off guard by the required closing of our church building. With the lack of people in our building, the lack of an offering plate being passed around, how would the money come in? 

Our pastors, admin staff, utilities, mortgage, and ministry shares contributions are all on an important list of essential services from our small congregation’s perspective. After dealing with the important issue of moving our church service to a YouTube live setting, we began to realize our financial issues had not been addressed.  

We determined that our March income was down by more than 20%, which means that we qualified for the Canadian government’s CEWS (Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy) program for March and April. This program provides a subsidy of 75% of a business or non-profit’s payroll if the organization can demonstrate that they are dealing with at least a 15% loss of revenue in March, and a 30% loss in April and/or May.

By applying for CEWS, we anticipate receiving approximately $7,000 each month for March and April. If our donations remain below 70% of last year, we may qualify for an additional $7,000 for each of the next two periods. Additionally, we have applied for the $40,000 CEBA program, with the anticipation of repaying it by December 2022, resulting in a $10,000 grant. 

While we remain in uncertain times, we anticipate this assistance will cover off most of the gap in our reduced donations received. 

While some may wonder about the appropriateness of a church applying for government funds, we took the position that keeping our congregation financially stable was important for us at this time in order to allow our ministry to continue. The funds we are applying for, are paid for by our taxes and will mean that we can continue being a presence for God in our community during this time. 

What will we do if this assistance doesn’t cover the gap in our reduced donations? Make some tough choices, but likely pay less ministry shares. 

What should we do if it exceeds our expectations? We plan on sending funds to each of our missed second offerings for an amount we’d have expected to receive. We should likely put some money towards the easiest source that a deficit comes from (ministry shares), and empower our denomination to act across the world in concert with us.

And Rev. Darren Roorda, Canadian Ministries Director for the CRCNA, adds this response:

First, according to Romans 13, “there is no governing authority except that which God has established.” And the purpose of the one in authority is [to be] God’s servant for your good.” As such, I encourage you to think of the good value that your government is meaning to provide by offering these funds during this difficult time. By offering it, they are actually living up to God’s desire of Romans 13 whether they know it or not.

Second, please understand that this is your money they are providing back to you. In a country like Canada where we pay taxes so that it would be distributed for a broad, common good, the money we have been giving all along is now being used for the good of all.

Third, the money that is available to you by the government is meant to cover your operational finances. This is where you would think about “who is affected by my changing operational finances in ministry?” The answer can extend from local community partners, to classis, and also to denominational ministries. By saying “No” to supportive funding and making a choice to squeak by and only cover the basic costs of paying your pastor and leaving the lights on, you may be forgetting about other ministry front lines.

For example, as a CRCNA church you are part of a broad family of ministries that depend on a covenantal approach to your operational finances. Your reception of government funds would allow the vibrant ministries that have impact throughout Canada to continue operating without ever having to cut their costs. Ministry efforts such as:

  • Your church’s partnership with a neighborhood program that can maintain support and relationships in this time of separation.
  • Or, if your church provides classis ministry shares for a local campus chaplain to impact young people for Christ, the government funding might be the difference between your maintaining that commitment by supporting the chaplain or the classis needing to lay them off.
  • Or, ministries like the Urban Indigenous Ministry Centres in places like Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton that are considered an ‘essential service’ while they help vulnerable populations during the Covid-19 pandemic. They are supported through Ministry Shares, one of the operational costs and shared expressions of ministry in your budgets.

Considering the above, I hope you will give due consideration to applying for federal assistance if there is a changing financial reality in your church due to Covid-19. If there are ways we can help you through this, please do not hesitate to reach out. A vast amount of support is available to you from your ministry staff of the CRCNA agencies/ministries.

How is your church responding to this question? Do you have advice to offer to others?

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When I read the two responses to the question I thought, "Really?  Do we really need to ask for government money to keep our churches in a financially stable place?"  If so, then that's not a sign of a healthy church in the first place.  Sure the government might be making money available to charitable organizations but that doesn't mean we need to approach that with a spirit of entitlement.  Instead of offering to help churches in this process of applying for government funding let's look for ways to encourage our churches to take a step in faith and trust in God to provide for the well-being of the church and its ministries.

For our church leadership that hasn't even come up for discussion to ask for government support. We have worked diligently to teach out people to tithe and to practice first fruits giving.  We are not a rich church but people are convicted to give generously as God has blessed them and every year we have a surplus in our church budget (yes, even when we went through a building project a few years ago).  And yes some of our people have been laid off as the result of COVID-19 and some of our business people are being affected but there are others who are still able to run their businesses or able to work from home (and seniors are still getting their pension and government checks) so we feel quite confident that God will continue to provide for the needs of our church through the generosity of his people.  Will that mean some people will need to dig a little deeper to make up the shortfall of those who are financially affected by the virus?  Of course.  But the reason why many of our churches are struggling to meet their budgets is not because of a lack of money.  People still have money for their nice homes, vehicles and vacations.  It's more a case of people not being taught or convicted to practice first fruits giving.

So should we ask for government help in midst of this COVID-19 crisis?  For me that should be the last resort.  As the questioner said, it's better to leave that government funding to other charities that need it more.  We serve a God who promises to provide all our needs when we seek first his kingdom.  God will provide for the needs of his church when we're willing to be as generous in our giving as God has so generously given to us in rich gift of salvation in his Son Jesus.

Community Builder

Color me entirely unconvinced as to the exegesis of Romans 13 as made in this article.  I'm supposing there could be exceptions, but I would think that the rule for local churches would be that they rely on their membership for financial support, even in times like this.  The postal service still exists (for sending checks).  And electronic means for sending funds still exist as well.  No "shut down" has shut down either of those means of receiving revenue.

If churches in North America (US or Canada) begin to rely on the federal government to replace reduced revenues, for whatever reason revenues are reduced, they have begun to travel down a very bad road, one that the reformed tradition departed from (for good reason) a very long time ago.  

FWIW, I have chosen not to apply for COVID19 related federal funding for my law practice.

So here's an interesting question: has the CRCNA (the denomination) applied for available COVID19 federal funding?

Participant

I think Romans 13 expresses what you need to know about this subject! Do what the Lord is directing you to do and don't worry about the others opinions! Thx