A new initiative championed by retired NFL tight end Benjamin Watson and the AND Campaign to help churches at risk of closing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has raised over $250,000 in its first week of fundraising.
Organizers of the Churches Helping Churches Challenge announced Monday that over 50 churches have been chosen to receive grants from its COVID-19 Church Relief Fund as the initiative has already amassed half of its goal of raising $500,000 by the end of April.
The initiative seeks to aid congregations in low-income communities that have been economically impacted by coronavirus shutdowns and encourage more affluent congregations to help others facing financial difficulties in their communities.
The initiative is led by the national urban Christian civil society organization the AND Campaign in conjunction with several other national Christian groups and leaders.
“Small at-risk churches are in a very desperate situation because of the pandemic,” AND Campaign President Justin Giboney said in a statement. “I’ve been encouraged by how larger churches and faith organizations from across racial and denominational lines have stepped up to help. We have a lot of work to do, but this has proven to be promising.”
The Church Relief Fund will award $3,000 grants to congregations and will be administered by the National Christian Foundation.
According to a press release, the initial fundraising goal was to raise at least $500,000 during April from churches, foundations and individual Christian donors to award at least 100 churches.
The initiative could provide awards to more churches than planned if the fundraising pace continues ahead of schedule.
In an interview with The Christian Post earlier this month, Watson — the initiative’s national spokesperson — explained that data from a Barna Group survey showed that 6% to 9% of pastors are unsure or not confident that their church will be able to survive the crisis. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of churches have reduced staff hours, laid-off employees or reduced compensation.
“As soon as the news broke about the virus, I felt called to support other believers,” Watson said. “My father is a pastor in South Carolina, and a couple of weeks ago he mentioned that many pastors were saying they didn’t think their churches could make it through this pandemic if people weren’t coming through their doors every Sunday.”
Although the recently-passed CARES Act assists churches, organizers of the Churches Helping Churches Challenge say that best estimates suggest that it could take months for aid to reach churches.
“By then it will be too late for many churches and missed the moment of greatest need,” the initiative’s website reads. “Churches’ costs are increasing right now as they provide critical assistance for their communities.”
Along with Watson, the initiative is supported by pastor and author Scott Sauls of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, evangelist and author Christine Caine and Luis Palau Association President Kevin Palau.
“The vision of this Churches Helping Churches Initiative is exactly in line with Movement Day’s mission to engage urban communities for the Gospel across ethnic, geographical, and socio-economic lines, and help cities flourish spiritually and socially,” said Movement Day founder Mac Pier.
Movement Day is an organization devoted to uniting Christian leaders to address today’s most pressing urban issues.
“We have committed to sharing this vision with thousands of leaders in our network so that the body of Christ will have practical tools for serving each other,” Pier said. “Many churches in low-income, urban areas have been hit hard by COVID-19, and we want to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters.”
Pastor Dwayne Walker, a pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, told WBTV that his church is applying for a grant through the initiative.
“We are applying for them as well because it is important that we stay afloat during these times,” the pastor said. “I have had to cut back on our staff. We only have two musicians on Sunday where we usually have eight that we use.”
Walker said that during these times, it is important to “keep each other encouraged.”
"I've had moments that I felt a bit discouraged and out of the blue someone called me with a word of hope and I've had the opportunity to call others with a word of hope to keep each other lifted up in hope,” Walker said.