Congregations considering the 1K Churches Bible study and micro-lending program often ask: “Why not just make it a gift?” Churches are good at giving. Our gifts reflect God’s free love for us. Churches know how to serve people who are sick or hungry or down on their luck. Churches have a long history of providing hospitals, shelters, and food pantries.
Why make small loans then, when it is so much more satisfying and often easier to give outright and to serve directly? Why get involved with businesses at all?
Giving and serving are good. They also have limits. They have limits when it comes to addressing challenges of the magnitude that we face today, like climate change, income inequality, and endemic racism. Solving such problems will take more than Christian charity. All segments of society, including the church, will have to work together in ways that change the very systems that perpetuate the problems. To make systems themselves more just and sustainable demands a redistribution of power, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Shifting systems depends on something we might call solidarity. Solidarity begins with our seeing that the fates of all living beings and the planet itself are linked together. Solidarity is the realization that to change our circumstances we must all work together across all boundaries, each individual part with its own gifts, its own voice, its own dignity.
1K Churches invites congregations to take one small step toward this solidarity. The 1K Churches Bible study cultivates the seeds of solidarity that are sown in the biblical stories of creation, of new life in Christ, and of the hope for God’s ultimate rule. When your congregation makes a small loan to a small business in your community, it builds a bond of solidarity that did not exist before.
Let’s say you lend $3,000 to a local solar installation company so that they can add a second work crew. That new relationship between a church and a business is nurtured in ways that are personal and reciprocal. It also begins to shift power dynamics. The loan recipient is seen not as the “needy one,” but as a valued partner in building a better community, a more sustainable world. The loan is seen as an investment that benefits both partners and the whole neighborhood. The company prospers and the loan is repaid where it can be reinvested. Such investments do not create dependency, but a healthy interdependence that sprouts small seeds of systemic change.
A small loan to a small business is one small step. It’s just a start at discovering God’s economy and imagining how solidarity might work among all segments of society – business, government, many religions, grassroots organizations, educational institutions, foundations, the finance industry. What if all these forces were working together to end climate change or poverty or gender-based violence? What if each did its part to build a just and sustainable society where everyone has enough and abundance is shared? It’s worth a try…in your congregation, in your community. Who knows how the spirit of solidarity will spread?