In Recession, Church Multiplies Money For Needy Fair Haven Ministries, a church in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., is taking lessons from a parable — to give away money in hopes that it will multiply and come back. One congregant used $100 to raise money to pay the hospital bills of a child with brain cancer.
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In Recession, Church Multiplies Money For Needy

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In Recession, Church Multiplies Money For Needy

In Recession, Church Multiplies Money For Needy

In Recession, Church Multiplies Money For Needy

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101947625/101963173" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Facing cutbacks in ministries to the poor, Tom DeVries of Fair Haven Ministries challenged the church to launch its own stimulus package. Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR hide caption

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Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR

Facing cutbacks in ministries to the poor, Tom DeVries of Fair Haven Ministries challenged the church to launch its own stimulus package.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR

Linda Young (from left), Jamie Brewer and Julie Bordewyk turned $100 into $12,000 during a family weekend at the local gymnastics club. The money will help pay for cancer treatments for 6-year-old Ryan Ter Haar, whose brother, Andrew (pictured), came for family night. Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR

Linda Young (from left), Jamie Brewer and Julie Bordewyk turned $100 into $12,000 during a family weekend at the local gymnastics club. The money will help pay for cancer treatments for 6-year-old Ryan Ter Haar, whose brother, Andrew (pictured), came for family night.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR

Fair Haven Ministries, a church in recession-battered Michigan, is trying to juggle a drop in offerings with an escalating need to help people in the community.

So it created its own stimulus package by drawing inspiration from a New Testament parable in which faithful servants took money given by their master, invested it and brought back more.

A robust crowd streams from the sanctuary of the 2,000-parishioner church in a suburb of Grand Rapids after a recent service. But when the church's pastor, Tom DeVries, gives a tour of the church's back offices, it's clear that all is not well.

The office of the pastor of celebration arts is empty — he was laid off along with three other church staff members. And DeVries says that's nothing compared to what his congregants are facing.

"This is about as bad as I've seen it," he says.

Michigan's unemployment rate tops 11 percent, a casualty of the auto industry crisis and one even closer to home. Furniture-makers Steelcase and Herman Miller, the major employers in Grand Rapids, aren't selling much furniture.

"We're seeing people losing their jobs; we're seeing people get upside down on their homes where they end up owing more than it's worth — and so it does impact their life, and it impacts their giving," DeVries says.

That's why Fair Haven has cut $400,000 out of its $2.7 million budget. They've slashed ministries by 15 percent. They've switched to a health care plan with higher deductibles, and the staff will take a week of unpaid leave in June.

The church is hardly alone, says Phill Martin at the National Association of Church Business Administrators. He notes that churches feel the pinch of recession later than other nonprofits.

"Only when the recession becomes so deep and so difficult do they pull away from the congregation," Martin says. "I think the church tends to be the last place that people — who are committed to their faith — that's the last place that they will stop giving charitably."

Still, nearly 60 percent of the group's members say they are seeing fewer dollars in their collection plates. And so with more demands and less money, churches are learning to be creative.

Take The Money, And Multiply It

On Jan. 25, worshippers at Fair Haven were greeted with a little surprise. DeVries preached about Jesus' parable of the talents. At the end of the sermon, he stood in front of the pulpit and pulled a wad of $100 bills out of his pocket — worth $5,000.

"I want at least 25 volunteers to make their way on down," DeVries announced. "And we're going to do this right now, and we're going to see what God has in store through us and with us."

The pastor asked his congregants to take the money and multiply it. The proceeds would be used for ministries serving the poor in Grand Rapids.

"I think at first they were stunned," DeVries says. "Then they were fearful because they had to come up front to get it. But as they began to think about it, they came up with all kinds of crazy ideas."

The ideas ranged from a chili cook-off and a music extravaganza, to a doggie day spa and a jewelry-maker.

"People can bring their dogs in and we'll wash 'em, dry 'em, and they pick them up later in the day," said Mark Tuttle. And it looks like business will be good.

"It's really muddy out here this time of year, in spring. The dogs are really dirty. So $15 is a small price to pay to get your dog washed," he says.

Kelly Bosch is making silver necklaces for a $15 donation. "These are all custom-stamped on metal, and you pick your favorite Bible verse, so they're custom-made just for you."

Bosch was one of two dozen people displaying their projects at a fair held between church services on a recent Sunday.

Raising Money For 6-Year-Old With Brain Cancer

The night before, Julie Bordewyk stood on the spongy floor of Gymnastix Unlimited. She was trying to get the attention of the 250 kids and parents at the game night that she had put together. But they were too busy jumping on the trampoline, getting their faces painted or writing down bids for the silent auction.

Bordewyk and her friends spent their $100 on admission tickets. Everything else — food, auction items, the gym itself — was donated.

"People want to give," she said. "It's such a hard world, and seeing so much sadness, it's nice to be doing something for God. To have some hope in the world, you know."

The money raised this weekend will go to 6-year-old Ryan Ter Haar, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Bordewyk selected him because she knows the medical bills will be a huge burden for his family.

"My husband was in the hospital for four days, and we still are paying bills," Bordewyk said. "I can't even imagine what the costs are with a child in hospital for as long as he is. And I will do anything in my power to help this family for the rest of my life."

Ryan's parents, Mindy and Todd, tried to hold back tears as the gym filled with more and more people. The gym's owner, Rhonda Wynsma, said she had no idea how much money they would raise.

"We know that God's bigger than us," Wynsma said. "And I think he wanted to show off this weekend."

In fact, the $100 investment raised more than $12,000. And that's just for one event. Fair Haven expects to give more money to the poor during this recession than it's ever given before.

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