Every Wednesday night, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago dishes up complete, balanced, hot meals to single men, women and families in its community. In the first quarter of 2009, Salem saw a more than four percent increase in the number of guests served through its "Feed the Homeless" ministry. Church leaders fully expect this number to rise as the year progresses.
Located in the most impoverished area of Chicago, Salem's mission always has been to serve "the least of these," most of whom live nearby. "The community we serve always has had high unemployment," says Veronica Abney, business administrator for Salem Baptist. "We've always provided member assistance for essentials like utility payments, prescription medications, and housing. Our challenge is that the majority of our church members actually consume the resources we provide—food, shelter, medical aid. They are not the individuals giving large amounts of money to our church."
As unemployment continues to rise, both in Salem's neighborhood and across the country, many churches (more than 40 percent, according to a recent Your Church church budget priorities survey) are experiencing a decline in giving.
"We've seen a 5 to 6 percent drop in giving compared to 2008," Abney says. "This has forced us to reduce our assistance budget by 35 percent."
Funding the difference between a community's increased needs and an overall decrease in church giving is but one challenge churches like Salem and many others face this year.