Church, Business and Community

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on December 18, 2013 - 7:03am

Of 100 conversations held to date, as part of the 1000 Conversations Campaign, this one had one of the most surprising starting points.  I had the great pleasure to join a group of business leaders in Milton hosted by Sandy from Milton’s Chamber of Commerce.  The last conversation that Sandy had hosted had proved to be very enriching, so I was excited to see where this one would lead. To my surprise, instead of digging into business and the role it has on shaping the community, we instead started with religion.

Church used to be the pivotal center of community giving support to the less fortunate.  That has since disappeared. One member in the group expressed her frustration that her old church seemed to be more focused on maintaining their building than investing in the broader community. She felt this has helped contribute to the disengagement of people from the church. 

The tides are changing, though,  and there is a growing need for the church to take on a different role.  The group felt that this shift in focus could help bring more people back to the church.

Where church used to be the main focal point of community giving and community care, the pressure has now shifted to the larger community to provide these things. Now, each year, businesses are inundated with requests for sponsorship, help and support.  Many are starting to feel tapped out. One person in the group talked about the stresses of having to turn down two thirds of those who apply for funding. “I want to give and they need it. But, we simply don’t have money for everyone.”

Poverty is a huge issue and with churches playing a smaller role and a lot of the strain being put on businesses,  who is going to pick up the pieces? The group felt strongly that a combination of business, government, not for profit and faith groups was a necessary way to effectively tackle the growing needs of those in poverty. If communities are to support those in need most effectively, the group believes that churches need to come back to the forefront. However, the group shared great uncertainty about this happening.

Who tithes anymore?  It used to be that people would set aside a certain percentage of their income every year to charitable donations.  In a couple religions, like Islam and Judaism, this is expected.  Now, less and less people are giving.  This is putting a large strain on churches that have a shrinking pool of money to draw from. One woman talked about how she prefers to give to groups like the United Way because she feels confident that it will go to where she wants it to go. There are clear guidelines of accountability in place.

Sharing, and giving were clear values for everyone in the group.  Some give money others give in kind donations of time and other resources.  The group noted that generally, charitable giving was made by a small percentage of the population and that they felt under strain. One person said, “you can give and give but there is a point where you have to stop.”  It isn’t an issue of recognition but that you have to look after your own first, if you can’t do that then you can’t be expected to give.

The key take aways for me were that people in business care deeply about their community and want to help improve everything, but feel overwhelmed by the needs of their community. They recognize that there is great potential if multiple groups are brought to the table to collectively respond to the issues. A key part of this is getting beyond the usual suspects who are in many cases tapped out, and engaging the larger population in the community building/restoration process.