RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–When asked to describe welfare, terms like slums, poverty and hunger often come to mind. Many people know little about the welfare reform of 1996. Often those who need welfare most are unsure how to obtain it.
“The main reason the subject of welfare is so difficult for many in our society is the sheer lack of information and knowledge,” said Rolland Slade, a national missionary for the North American Mission Board in the area of welfare back to work evangelism ministries.
Slade taught a class on welfare to work during Black Church Leadership Week Aug. 5-9 at LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 is a welfare reform plan that requires work in exchange for time-limited federal assistance, Slade explained.
“We as a society have so many misconceptions about welfare,” he said. During a “welfare pop quiz,” he noted that in the years prior to the welfare reform act:
— the average size of a welfare family was only three (one parent and two children), debunking the myth that many welfare recipients keep having children to get more welfare funding.
— the percentage of the population that was permanently poor was 1.3 percent.
— the median duration of participation in income assistance programs was six months.
— between 1 and 2 percent of the federal budget went for welfare payments to the poor.
Encouraging churches to become involved in welfare-to-work ministries, Slade noted, “We have a tendency to do ministry only below the poverty line. As a church we need to seek out ways to prevent people from reaching the poverty line. That is what welfare to work is trying to do.”
Churches bring faith, love, hope, talents, networks and life experiences to the welfare-to-work outreach, Slade said.
“The government tells people, ‘We will invest in you when you get a job.’ The church should say, ‘We will invest in you so you can get a job.’ The church knows the concerns of the neighborhood, because they are the neighborhood. It is only natural that they would be the ones who reach out to those individuals.”
Slade did not minimize the often-daunting task of setting up a ministry for the poor. He did, however, encourage churches to join with other churches to help each other with strengths and areas of expertise.
“You don’t have to do everything yourself,” he said. “Maybe you want to provide a childcare [center] for those in your community who can’t afford it. Well, one church can provide the facility. Maybe another is equipped to take care of transportation. Possibly a third can take care of job training. While one church may not be able to handle all of that, collaboration makes it possible.”
Slade cautioned churches to research carefully before choosing a partner and to be sure their goals are the same. “We often assume putting everyone together will work, but be sure you have the same agenda,” he said.
Before getting started in welfare-to-work ministry, Slade recommended that churches first mobilize a task force of diverse leaders to guide the developmental phase.
“During the preliminary stages, you must decide what kind of ministry you would like to provide, how you will gain funding, how you will connect with your potential clients and what services you are prepared to offer,” Slade said.
“If the church doesn’t get out front in the community, we are only an ‘irrelevant social club,'” Slade said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
Slade also listed several resources about welfare and welfare ministries, including:
— Center for Public Justice, (410) 571-6300; www.cpjustice.org.
— Hudson Institute’s Faith in Communities Project, (804) 293-5656; www.hudsonfaithincommunities.org.
— The Welfare Information Network, www.welfareinfo.org.
— The Empowerment Network, www.empowermentnetwork.com.
Slade said he can be contacted at (619) 462-0592 or [email protected].
Approximately 1,300 people attended Black Church Leadership Week. The conference was sponsored by five Southern Baptist Convention entities — LifeWay Christian Resources, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Annuity Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: COLLABORATE.