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Community development corporation called tool to expand church ministries

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–To meet community needs — housing, childcare, transportation, food and others — many African American Southern Baptist churches are establishing faith-based, nonprofit community development corporations, according to Carl McCluster, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, Bridgeport, Conn.

McCluster, also president of MCVision Ministries, which consults with churches about community development corporations (CDC), led daily conferences during Black Church Leadership Week, July 31-Aug. 4, at Ridgecrest (N.C.), a LifeWay Conference Center.

McCluster’s 300-member church operates a CDC with five divisions of services — senior adults, youth, housing, technology and rehabilitation. He emphasized that every corporation is unique and targeted to meet specific needs in the community.

Among the Shiloh services is an initiative, Home Ownership Made Easy, to provide counseling and help to persons with limited incomes and who desire to become homeowners.

“Anyone coming into this program will get a home if they’re faithful. I’m specializing in what God can do. We don’t throw people away,” he said.

McCluster said churches should get involved in helping people buy homes, because, “If everybody in your church owned a house, your church would have more stability and more tithes and offerings.”

A church does not have to be large to sponsor a CDC, McCluster said. “If you have 40 members who are faithful, you can do an outstanding job in community development.”

To develop a vision for a CDC requires what McCluster, a former Wall Street investment banker, termed “top-down selling. Begin with God’s vision rather than trying to pull God down to where we are,” he urged. “If God said it, he’s always going to make a way for it to be.”

In addition to faith-based CDCs, operated primarily by Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, McCluster said corporations such as banks are forming corporate CDCs to meet community needs outside their primary businesses. A third type is the grassroots, resident-driven CDC launched by renters, homeowners and business people who live in a community or even people who work in a community but don’t live there.

He emphasized the three types are not mutually exclusive. A faith-based CDC may include partnerships with local businesses, government agencies and residential groups.

“The right partnerships can help you to have the best CDC, but you have to remain who you are through the process,” McCluster said.

One common problem he said churches face in considering a CDC is the fear among some church members that they will lose control of the CDC.

“Although it’s a separate corporation, the CDC is always going to be a child of the church and be accountable,” McCluster said.

While the pastor must play a key leadership role, he warned pastors in the session not to go it alone.

“You can’t do it by yourself. That’s the pathway to destruction,” McCluster said. In addition to the workload, he said a CDC requires a wide range of expertise — business, legal, writing grant proposals and other areas.

With a vision in place, he suggested posing a question: “If this ministry could be anything you wanted it to be, regardless of cost, what would it be? If you ask this question, you’ll end up with a list a mile long.”

Later in the organization stage, he said the items on the list become a tool for deciding what divisions are needed. He recommended no more than three for a new CDC.

“You’ll have to prioritize, and some things will have to go on the back burner,” McCluster said.

While a CDC is a ministry, it must be operated on sound business principles, he said.

“A nonprofit that doesn’t make money is not a nonprofit. It’s a former nonprofit,” McCluster said.

About 60 percent of the process of establishing a CDC takes place in the planning, preparation and organization stage, he said. Twenty percent is gaining funding; 15 percent, evaluation and reporting; and 5 percent, re-evaluation and reassessment.

To establish a CDC, a church must be willing to set aside start-up money for items such as a phone line, office space, printing and clerical help.

“As early as possible you want to move the CDC out of the church, even if it’s next door,” McCluster said. To give the CDC the support it needs to succeed, he recommended the sponsoring church make at least a one-year commitment.

More than 1,400 people attended Black Church Leadership Week. It was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in cooperation with the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Woman’s Missionary Union and Annuity Board.

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  • Linda Lawson