High numbers of Baptist churches tackling poverty
Charity Christians Against Poverty has released new figures showing the commitment of Baptist churches in helping people struggling with debt, unemployment and addiction
A whopping 41 churches are now running a CAP Debt Centre; nationally there are 280. A further 17 are running CAP Job Clubs (out of 115) and three are running the charity’s latest project CAP Release Groups to help people break addictions (nationally there are 30). Hundreds more run the debt prevention sessions called the CAP Money Course.
'We love to work with the Baptist Church,' says CAP’s Chief Executive Matt Barlow. 'We’re always aware of this huge desire on the part of both the congregation and leadership to connect with the community in a real and relevant way.'
One example is Sidley Baptist Church in East Sussex. Four years ago member Ros Thomas approached the leadership with an idea to run a CAP Debt Centre.
Now she runs the centre four days a week, with a pair of trained debt coaches from a sister church in Beulah, in Bexhill-on-Sea, where a CAP Money Course runs too.
'It’s changed us,' says the Revd Dave Bishop, the church's minister for the past 17 years.
'Without a doubt it’s given us an insight into the community we didn’t have before. We are meeting with people who wouldn’t have come over the threshold. People feel positive about the church here. There is favour in the community towards Sidley Baptist Church. We’re not just a bunch of Holy Joes, we roll up our sleeves.'
Recently, the team have been helping a group of churches in Hastings to replicate the partnership, in order to allow another town to benefit from the free debt counselling service that has won the charity awards.
Dave said the service and aftercare of each client works best if several churches in an area shoulder it together.
'This isn’t about a good idea for one church, it’s God’s idea for His Church in the community.
'We’re aware that we need to do more follow up. We’re just a church of 90 people and we need others to help us do that. We don’t mind what church they go to. We’re just content to start the journey with people.'
Dave added: 'It’s been challenging financially to run this but God’s good. We’ve had significant one-off and monthly supporters.
'Initially I saw the blessing of CAP as people saved and in my church. God’s taken me on a journey with that. We are seeing people go debt free and if they are financially better off, they are open to hearing about the rest.
'The brilliant news we have here is that people are coming to Christ. Ros has led more people to Christ in the last year than I have. We’re invited into people’s homes. It’s a great opportunity.'
This experience is echoed at another of CAP’s 280 debt centres, in Streatham, London. Centre Manager Phil Stone explains how his church’s involvement began.
'This has been an amazing five-year journey for Mitcham Lane Baptist Church, since one member saw the vision for CAP in our church. We started with CAP Money and then believed God was calling us to open the CAP centre.'
In those years the centre has received 210 referrals from key contacts in the area and seen 31 clients go debt-free, a process that typically takes years not months.
Most clients are able to pay off their debt thanks to a tight budget and a ready cheer squad, although insolvency options are available too to those who would be unable to reasonably do that within five years.
'Since July 2010, the church has backed us to the hilt, supported us in every way possible, and seen evidence of how God can change lives, free people from debt, and bring many into His Kingdom,' said Phil.