It is well known that there are churches in every community that help the needy. These benevolence ministries are often called “Alms” ministries because they are giving alms to the poor. You are more likely to see this kind of community benevolence ministry than to see one that meets the needs of people in the congregation.

Those who dispense benevolence funds have found that it is best not to give cash to anyone—member or stranger. Instead, pay a bill, pay for a service, take someone shopping for food, or give a voucher for clothing. As accountability with people grows, you can determine whether you can entrust them with cash.

However, benevolence is more than giving money to the poor. The right way to help is to become involved in the person's life. Accountability takes place through relationship.

Internal Benevolence
The church may be great in meeting the needs of people in the community, but how easy is it for members to go to their own churches for help? Often, when the help is available, it is given to meet needs one time, then no more. We believe that it is vital to meet the needs within the church before reaching out to others, and many of these needs will be ongoing. This may mean committing to pay a single mom's heating bill during the winter or providing a scholarship for her child to attend day care while she is working.

There should be a specific fund to help congregational members. Because the Bible talks about a special third tithe to care for widows and orphans, some churches take up a special widows and orphans offering the fifth Sunday of the month, about four times per year.

Benevolence funds should be available when any member has a need and should be dispensed through a committee. Each committee member should be able to dispense up to a certain amount without consulting others. Higher amounts should require discussion between two or three members. Church members should neither have to wait until the committee meets each month nor fill out forms like people outside the church because you already know these people.

External Benevolence
Most benevolence ministries are open to the public for short periods of time during regular church business hours. Some operate two days per week for three to four hours. Others operate daily for one or two hours. The schedule is dependent on the availability of a staff person to oversee the ministry and on availability of volunteers.

Because you may not know those who are coming to your church for help, it is important to provide some accountability. Forms are necessary, but this may be handled through an interview process. A second visit may include meeting with a budget counselor. The idea is not just to give funds to the needy, but to start that important relationship-building process.

Benevolence ministry provides a great opportunity for the church to reach out to those in need and make a real difference in their lives. For more information on developing and running a successful benevolence ministry, contact Crown Financial Ministries and ask for the pamphlet titled "Starting a Benevolence Ministry in Your Church or Community".

Adapted from Empowering Single Parents—Ministering Through Welfare-to-Work.