Local missions, large impact: faith communities and innovative practices in going beyond contributions

Mission work has always been a central practice of communities of faith in Greenville County, SC (and, of course, around the world), and the local mission work of faith organizations is vital in helping alleviate suffering, building stronger neighborhoods and families, and supporting nonprofits.

Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy convened a meeting of faith organizations (in partnership with Grace Church, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church) to allow for faith leaders to learn from each other and consider ways to expand their local missions.

Katy Smith with GPP shared ideas from other communities and examples from here in Greenville County.

Network for collaboration focused on specific change or a community agenda:

FORCLT – a coalition of churches in Charlotte, NC with the purpose to “Unite the Church to Transform Our City,” and the mission of connecting pastors for personal, church, and city renewal.

Empower Sioux Falls brings local Christian churches together to significantly increase the impact of the Church in bringing hope to those in poverty.

Serving as an incubator: Faith organizations are accustomed to offering financial support to those in need of food, shelter, and utility assistance.  This is important, but congregations can also help people without wealth build it – they can support small business owners or social enterprises by offering:

  • Space – A church can use underutilized classrooms for office space or its kitchen for an up and coming caterer.
  • Capital – A church can invest its own resources or encourage members to do so, either directly in a small business or through CommunityWorks Carolina or Abundance Capital
  • Mentoring – Church members with business skills can mentor new entrepreneurs
  • Connections to vendors and customers – Churches can use their networks to lift up opportunities to buy from new small business owners, and they can purchase from these local businesses themselves.
  • Example – Stitching Up Detroit

Affordable housing: Using the faith organization’s property to make more housing options available in the community.  Several points were offered by attendees:

  • Using church land for another party to develop housing – this can be done by selling the property to the developer, as Augusta Heights Baptist Church, or entering a development agreement in which the church retains ownership of the land. The clever “Yes In God’s Backyard” initiative does this (flipping the Not In My Backyard – NIMBYism – that so often rears its head when affordable housing projects are proposed in a neighborhood).
  • Purchasing or building housing units in the community to allow those in need of affordable housing to use (for free or through subsidized rent. Anthony’s of Padua has done this in its West Greenville neighborhood as they saw rapid gentrification unfolding around them.  Grace Church has been renting apartments in the community for men and women participating in some of their recovery programming, and it is in the process of purchasing a complex for these and other individuals.

It was noted that there are nonprofits and social enterprises, such as Homes of Hope and Good Shepherd House, that specialize in housing management who are good partners in projects like this, since it’s their expertise.

Churches can also help their members understand that their roles as residents outside of church can help welcome affordable housing in the community

Making Impact Investments: Impact investments use an organization’s assets to invest in projects or people to generate a social – and in some cases a financial – return.  Philanthropic foundations have been exploring this, recognizing that each year they use 5% of their assets to make grants and the other 95% sits invested but could also be used for their mission purposes.  A number of local foundations have invested in the Greenville Housing Fund, Homes of Hope houses, CommunityWorks Carolina to make small business and home loans, and Community Capital Management.

One of the easiest first steps a faith community can take is opening a banking account at CommunityWorks Carolina or Self-Help Credit Union so these community partners have more dollars on deposit to put to work in our area. Learn more about these institutions – called CDFIs, or Community Development Financial Institutions – here.

Read about previous GPP work on impact investing.

Advocacy and Civic Engagement:  Some congregations are urged by Micah 6:8 to pursue Biblical justice:  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

  • Village Engage’s mission is to compel people of faith to work together for justice & compassion. They are a lead partner to end predatory lending in the state by seeking a legislative cap on high interest rate loans.
  • A new justice ministry based on the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, CAJM. The next meeting will be Thursday, March 31st from 5:00-7:00 at Trinity Lutheran Church (in person), and all are welcome to attend.  Please let Jennifer Fouse Sheorn of Triune Chapel know if you plan to participate or would like more information.


Do you know of other ways that faith communities are supporting their greater neighborhoods beyond financial contributions?  Anything you’d like to know more about?  Contact us!


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