As jobless rates nationwide approach levels unseen for decades, many job hunters are going to church not only for prayer and emotional support, but also for the booming increase in employment services being offered.
First Presbyterian Church of Elkhart, Indiana, had long-operated the only job-assistance ministry in town until the recession pummeled the local rv industry and sent unemployment rates past 17 percent, nearly twice the national rate. Today, local churches are launching ministries modeled after First Presbyterian's People Between Jobs program, which draws a weekly attendance of 40 to 60 job seekers.
"We went from getting no inquiries to [getting] one almost every day within a matter of weeks after the layoffs started [last fall]," said program co-coordinator Andy McCaskey. First Presbyterian has launched the Michiana Career Network Association to better coordinate activities between four involved churches.
The severity of the unemployment problem nationwide has caused more churches to focus on ministering to the unemployed. Most have many ministry elements in common, such as résumé-writing workshops, practice interviews, and advice for dealing with emotional factors such as stress, social stigma, and frustration.
"In the past four months, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of these types of programs across the nation," said Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church management firm. "Churches are responding to help those who need it."
A February 2009 Lifeway Research survey of 1,000 Protestant churches nationwide found that 31 percent were considering creating or expanding ministries for the unemployed. Sixty-two percent had been approached for help by persons from their community, while 31 percent had been approached by their own church members.
Boston-based career coach Kathy Robinson said churches are an excellent resource for job seekers. "Churches are made up of people, and the more you get to know, and the more people who know you are looking for a job, the better the chances that you will find an employer," she said.
Churches are using a range of models. Bear Creek Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, added a page to its website that advertises local jobs offered by church members. Mount Olive Baptist Church in Hackensack, New Jersey, mobilized 15 local churches to offer prayer services and skills workshops. And Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, California, offered a volunteer-driven JobConnections program with a membership of 3,000 job hunters—only 10 percent of whom are church members.
With its local unemployment rates passing 7 percent, First Baptist Church of Dallas has seen steady demand for its Career Solutions ministry, which features 12 weeks of skills training, and Career Link, a members-only section on the church's website that shares résumés with member employers who are looking for job candidates.
More than half of the nearly 200 participants in the First Baptist program have found employment as a result of the ministry.
"It's a very practical approach, really," said Robert Jeffress, head pastor of the 11,000-member megachurch. He stresses that the ministry is neither a job bank nor a pity party. "How do you tell a person that God loves them and wants to help them when they're hungry and can't afford their rent or house payment?"
Michael W. Michelsen Jr. is a freelance writer living in California.
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Christianity Today also posted an article on "The Purpose-Driven Job Hunter."
Previous articles on the economic crisis include:
It Takes More Than a Recession to End Consumption | Though it's no longer conspicuous, 'feel-good' buying lives on in the U.S. (February 12, 2009)
God Is In Control During the Financial Crisis | God often uses adversity for his greatest blessings and the markets are his. By Charles Colson (October 2, 2008)
A Christian View of the Economic Crisis | Is the economy really driven by greed? By Al Mohler (September 29, 2008)
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