Taking the Long View of the PPP Loans for Churches

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When COVID-19 struck the USA – and the world – over the last six to eight months, when businesses shut down, the stock market tanked, and millions of people lost their jobs temporarily or permanently, one of the responses from the federal government was the Payroll Protection Program administered by the Small Business Administration.

The PPP loan process was put together very fast. There was no time for extensive research, strategizing, and testing the process and its impact. Something was needed immediately. During the political negotiations it was determined that religious organizations – churches, denominations, and parachurch organizations – would quality for these forgivable loans.

On another day we can hold a debate on the implications of including religious organizations in the PPP loan process. For now let’s move forward. Religious organizations have employees. These employees were impacted just like employees in other businesses and organizations. Religious organizations are in the people business, so they care about employees.

Before many religious organizations applied for and accepted a PPP loan there was already a debate over whether they would need them or not. Also debated was if accepting the loans meant these religious organizations did not trust God enough. Again, these issues are for a post-Pandemic debate. Religious organizations – especially churches – applied for and received needed loans.

I always agreed with the concept circulating that churches were making a “good faith certification” that they would need the loan. They had to make this certification before they knew if their donation income would drop significantly and risk the downsizing or temporary furloughing of some of their staff. They also did not know yet about additional operational expenses they would incur to keep their churches effectively ministering.

If you are one of the churches who received a PPP loan, I have several thoughts for your consideration during the 24 weeks given to you to spend the money and apply for forgiveness of the loan.

First, spend the money. It was not given to you to place in a bank to earn a tiny bit of interest. Spend it for the intended purposes you listed in your loan application. It is designated money with a deadline. Use it or lose it.

Second, as a corollary to the first thought, put the money into the hands of employees and various vendors so that it will circulate throughout the economy. The Small Business Administration has given you the power to be a partner in the economic recovery of our nation and the world. Do not shun your citizen responsibility.

Third, because we are in the people business as churches, honor your employees by blessing them with the continuing income made possible by the PPP loan so that they – within reason – can adequately provide for themselves and their family. Let them choose how to put that money in circulation. They are trustworthy.

Fourth, think creatively about how you can use your employees during the Pandemic to bless the people who are the focus of your ministry. This may involve asking them to engage in tasks different than the ones in their formal position description. It may eventually involve you rewriting their position description because you have decided to change the way you minster to and support people. This means you will not assume there is nothing for your employees to do during this time.

Fifth, rethink your staff. You may discover that ministry in a new era requires different types of staff persons with different skills. Offer retraining to you current staff, or long-term help your staff find another type of position that matches their gifts, skills, and preferences.

While there are more thoughts I could share, let’s shift the dialogue a bit.

Because the federal government nor the Small Business Administration could see into the future when they designed the legislation and the loan guidelines, they were unable to see some of the possibilities that have emerged where the PPP loans might empower other types of efforts.

A whole new set of things on which to spend money and stimulate the economy have arisen during the Pandemic. If churches spend the PPP loan money on its employees and on the other items on the approved list of expenditures, and have regular payroll money that can be reallocated, then they can move forward with continuous or disruptive innovation. Here are some ideas this implies.

First, is one that tens of thousands of churches have spent money on. New technology and the ability to use it to its potential has become part of the new era of church ministry. Thousands of congregations will now permanently live stream their worship services and even have an online campus of their congregation. Equipment, training, and new employees will be needed long-term to focus on this new approach to ministry.

Second, one growth industry is the whole area of safety and sanitizing. Purchasing equipment, materials, new training for staff and volunteers, and even new employees will be needed long-term to address this new requirement for quality ministry. There will also be the need to continue developing the capacity for the third “s” – security. All of this will be part of the guest services experience. It is possible many congregations will need to consider employing a guest services coordinator.

Third, retrained, redeployed, and even new employees will be needed to engage in personal contact with and care for the membership and prospects for congregations. Many congregations are discovering that calling every household in their membership and every guest who attended in the six months before the Pandemic is a renewed dimension of high touch ministry that is being well received. It is, however, very time intensive.

Regarding this third idea, there is no time to waste. As early as March I predicted that people would break the habit of getting up and going to church on Sundays by April 5th – Palm Sunday. They did. Then I predicted that people would learn the new habit of staying home and experiencing church remotely by the Sunday after Mother’s Day. They did.

I am writing this around July 12th, and that is the Sunday I predicted people would have “hardwired” their new habit into their lifestyle, and churches would have a hard time getting them back in church on a regular basis. I am hearing pastors and others talk about the congregation that is being “left behind” and how difficult it will be to reconnect with them.

Therefore, act now to invest funds in people who can engage in high touch ministry to people connected, newly connecting, and disconnecting with your congregation. Time is running out. In some cases it has already run out.

Your congregation needed its PPP loan. You just did not realize at the time you applied for and received it how much you needed it. Neither the federal government nor its Small Business Administration knew how much you needed it.

Spend your PPP loan, and invest your regular income in the new open doors of opportunity God is trying to help you see with spiritual and strategic clarity. The doors may close soon.

George Bullard, www.BullardJournal.org, July 13, 2020

About the author 

Kyndra Bremer