Lutherans in Minnesota

Acts of the new apostles

Are these funding models recession-proof? Two faith-based groups bear watching.

Economic conditions in the Roman Empire were not a major concern of the
great apostles who strode Jerusalem just after Pentecost — when people
brought the sick on their beds into the street in the mere hope that Peter’s
shadow might fall upon them. Such zeal still fires mission-minded Lutherans
in Twin Cities streets — though faith-based nonprofits trying to do the work
of Christ in our own interesting times find themselves worrying about how to
pay for it.

The Minnesota Council on Foundations predicts that grants will drop four
percent in 2009 from a year earlier. Churches, meanwhile, no doubt will see
diminished giving as well, with members enduring job layoffs and investment
portfolios struggling to regain lost value.

How can faith-based groups carry on? A pair of models bear watching: LINC—
Twin Cities (Lutheran Inter-City Network Coalition) and Faith in the City have
established diversified sourcing that relies on more than money. Their
approaches may help both groups sidestep hard times.

LINC—Twin Cities, a network of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS)
congregations, identifies established church volunteers metrowide to help
reinvigorate existing congregations while launching new urban ministries
among ethnic groups.

Faith in the City, meanwhile, is a partnership of five big Lutheran institutions
that counts bishops of both Minneapolis and St. Paul ELCA synods on its
board. The group seeks to leverage existing corporate resources in support of
urban initiatives.

Both groups’ funding models are promising, agrees Chris Andersen,
executive director and president of the Lutheran Community Foundation in
Minneapolis, a national faith-based “pan-Lutheran” group of 3,500
charitable funds.

Andersen points to “the value of having strong partnerships with
organizations, whether they be corporations or congregations.” Moreover, the
practice of involving individuals from partners in your activities creates an
additional bond. A diverse funding base may not be an advantage, Andersen
cautions, “if you don’t necessarily have a real structural connection.”

How do LINC—Twin Cities and Faith in the City do it? Here are brief profiles:
LINC—Twin Cities is a network of local churches launched in 2007 by pastors
and lay leaders who hope to keep existing inner-city churches open, while
encouraging new ethnic ministries. LINC wants to be an “adaptive” ministry,
perhaps welcoming young adults — so the pastor it is calling will have
considerable discretion in setting up a new worshiping congregation.

LINC, with its predecessor organization’s connections to LCMS, took root
about 10 years ago as a funding arm anchored by Trinity First Lutheran on
Franklin Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. The initiative
made grants for urban ethnic churches — but soon found that “money alone
was not the only thing needed for most of these ministries,” says Susan
Hewitt, now executive director of LINC—Twin Cities. Also needed were
volunteers and resources from existing congregations.

So LINC is trying to establish a metro-wide network of volunteers. A new
initiative of LINC—Twin Cities launched in January was its Church Planting
Round Table, with representatives from the LCMS Minnesota South District,
St. Paul-based Concordia University’s Oswald Hoffmann School of Christian
Outreach, pastors from eight supporting congregations, and others. The goal
under consideration is to start one congregation per year for a decade.

LINC hired Hewitt in June 2008 to pull the threads together. She has a staff of
two 10-hour-per-week part-timers. Challenging economic times
notwithstanding, LINC’s three-way funding model of congregations, grants,
and individuals pushed the group’s income ahead of plan in 2008 to the low
six figures — Hewitt is reluctant to publicize specifics. The group plans a
formal call to an ordained minister, who will plant a church as early as this
year. Where and what kind of church remains deliberately fluid.

The eight supporting congregations provide financial assistance as well as
in-kind help. For example, a sound system and musicians have already been
offered.

LINC, however, will start with neighborhood needs. In April it will train
volunteers from Jehovah and St. Stephanus, two neighboring urban St. Paul
Lutheran congregations, to conduct a “prayer walk” — door-knocking to
identify neighborhood needs, church-related or otherwise. Job training?
Tutoring? LINC will try to address those needs, whatever they are, as a way to
prepare for planting a church. The pilot project will also train congregations
in “telling their mission story” as well as “recruiting, working cross-culturally,
and connecting volunteers” — and helping those volunteers reach out to their
communities. “We are building relationships,” explains Hewitt, “to earn the
right to share our faith.”

Faith in the City’s partnership likewise provides a budget in the low six
figures, covering only one staff person but paying for events and incidentals.
The balance of partners’ giving is in kind. Augsburg College provides an office
and computer, for example. Partners Augsburg, Fairview Health Services,
Luther Seminary, Lutheran Social Service, and Thrivent Financial also offer
staff and resources for events. “The beauty of the model,” says Paul
Pribbenow, Augsburg president, is that partners aren’t “making huge
institutional commitments. This isn’t about just throwing money at things. It’s
about bringing together resources.”

For example, Faith in the City also gets grant funding. Staff at partner
organizations write the grant proposals.

Financial help takes other forms as well. One of the group’s projects,
Augsburg-Fairview Charter School, now stands on its own — however, the
school received backing from Augsburg when it needed a loan for an
elevator.

A signature event for Faith in the City came in February with “The Servant
Church Arises: Lutherans United to End Poverty” at the Earle Brown Center in
Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The conference wasn’t just talk. Its purpose was
to convene six or eight people from each attending organization to develop
an action plan addressing difficulties of the poor.

Lutherans have taken leadership roles in Minnesota’s anti-poverty work,
including a legislative commission to make concrete proposals about the
elimination of poverty by 2020. Thus, the effort of Faith in the City has been
geared toward focusing resources more than changing individual’s attitudes
about the need to address the issues.

In the days when the apostles strode Jerusalem, the Roman Empire still faced
many years of bad times and good — as do we, perhaps. Whether or not
groups like Faith in the City and LINC make it through the worst recession in
recent history — no doubt God still sees the way.