Stewardship in a Time of Crisis: The Government and Free Money

Stewardship in a Time of Crisis: The Government Is Giving Money Away – Should Your Church Take It?
A second round of the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) is awaiting funding in Congress. For those who missed out on the first round, either because funding ran out or you didn’t apply, comes the question “Should we apply for this?” Our answer is pretty simple. Yes, you probably should. We say probably because there are a few exceptions.
Let’s address the reasons why you might say “No!” first. If you have a secure funding future with significant endowments and/or donors with the capacity and interest to see your operating budget through the next 6-12 months, then the answer is probably no. Leave the money on the table for those who are not as fortunate as you are. You will be fine.
A second reason to say “No!” is if you have no mission or vision beyond simply staying open. It’s pretty simple, really. If the best you’ve got to offer the world is the ability to keep the lights on and doors open for your own flock, then step aside and let folks who are engaged in transformational ministries get the resources they need to keep their work going. The church of Jesus Christ is worthy of a mission greater than keeping an individual congregation open for the sake of – well – keeping it open! Take a hard pass because you really don’t need it.
For everyone else our suggestion is yes. Apply and take the money if it is awarded, but do so with a plan in place. That plan would include using those funds, as necessary to keep your mission moving, and perhaps to expand it to impact your community with programs that relate to healing and wholeness (body mind and spirit) in the wake of COVID-19. The government’s primary purpose with PPP was to keep people from losing their jobs and being forced to file for unemployment. To keep your staff paid (with benefits) and working is the goal. Accepting the funds to cover a shortfall in income created by reduced offerings and lost income to meet payroll is the point. It is good stewardship to receive the funds under these conditions.
Some of you may be in a position where the first quarter was not nearly as bad as you thought it might be and you are actually keeping your head above water. Should you take the money? Again, our answer is yes. You cannot begin to predict what will happen to income in the remainder of the year as the impact of millions of being unemployed or under-employed along with the global shut down of most national economies will mean for your ability to fund mission and ministry. Taking the money for a “short term” rainy day fund that will protect your church and its vital work. Say “Yes!”
The caveat in taking the money if you are currently fiscally solvent is that you not keep it too long. You need to set some markers on the calendar where, at each point (perhaps every 90 days for up to a year and a half) you will evaluate your current position and seek to project the next 90 days. It if becomes apparent you will need the money for operations, then use it accordingly.
However, as you move through these “checkpoints”, if things are stable, then you need to develop a plan for meeting the needs of your partner organizations (or other mission/ministry activities that your community needs) which are not as fortunate as you are. Look for those groups who do good work and who are struggling. Consider giving them some of the money you have set aside so that their work can continue.
It is reasonable to imagine that the next 12-18 months are going to be uncertain. Plan to evaluate both your position and that of other vital service organizations in your community or within your denominational affiliation. The moral/ethical dilemma, as we see it, is the temptation to keep the money when you don’t need it and simultaneously watch important agencies suffer and perhaps even close. If we move much beyond a year and have only kept the money in our checking/savings account using it neither for ourselves nor our partners, we have likely been poor stewards.
Consider as well, how you will invest the money while you wait to see how and when you need to employ it. Tying it up long term will defeat the purpose of having it when you need it. Leaving it in a checking account where it draws little or no interest might also be considered fiduciary malfeasance. Work with your bank or your denominational financial ministries to evaluate prudent, short-term investments that are not tied to heavily to the equity sector of the economy.
This is a test of stewardship. If you receive the funds, pray that you will be found faithful in their use – and then make a plan to make it so.
Bruce Barkhauer,
Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Giving
Since this article was posted, some additional information has come to our attention about restrictions and qualifications for receiving this as a grant (not paid back) vs as a loan (paid back with interest).  Follow this link and our thanks to Lisa Braverman for calling this to our attention.–IFRN%20FINAL.pdf
If you are a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) you can get more information about how to apply via the CARE Act at Church Extension