Zach Williams serves as pastor of Flat Creek Baptist Church in Gainesville. Recently, the church's deacons voted to give $1,000 a week to churches in financial stress. CALEB YOUNG/Special
GAINESVILLE — Zach Williams knows what it’s like to be a pastor when the finances are tight. He’s had those restless nights of trying to figure out how to make church expenses meet. He’s heard a treasurer ask him to hold off on cashing his paycheck for a few more days.
“There have been many times that I’ve had to pray, ‘God, if you don’t do something, we won’t make it,’” Williams told The Christian Index. “And, of course, every single time He’s proven Himself faithful.”
At a mid-February deacons meeting, the subject turned to church finances. Flat Creek, the group acknowledged, was in good financial shape. In fact, it was better than good. At that point, Williams says he witnessed the most generous statement he’s ever heard.
“Our chairman of deacons, Royce Millwood, looked at everyone and said, ‘God has been so good to our church. We need to find ways to use this money for His glory and not horde it for ourselves.’
“He said it and we moved on,” Williams remembers. “But, the memory of it stayed with me.”
At that time news of the coronavirus remained largely in China although cases had begun appearing in the U.S. Still, it was hard to believe that the illness would squirm into every state of the country and temporarily halt day-to-day life as we know it. Today’s noon report by the Georgia Department of Health shows 1,247 cases in the Peach State alone, with 40 deaths. Hall County, where Flat Creek is located, has 19 cases.
And while churches have quickly adapted to online services and ministry while doing their best to adhere to recommendations on social distancing, everyone braces for a pronounced effect on giving.
Williams remembers the impact a hurricane, flood, or blizzard could have on church tithes. “It would cripple us,” he says. “But you just had to figure out what you were going to do.
“When I heard churches could have their doors closed for eight weeks, I knew there would be some in danger of shutting down. My mind went to Acts 2:44-45 and how the early church gave to all those in need.”
As pastors, he adds, it can happen that you look at other churches as competition. “But, they’re our brothers and sisters in Christ. When I thought about what Royce said, God laid it on my heart to come up with a relief program to help these churches in a time of financial stress.”
A unanimous vote at the next deacons meeting paved the way. For eight weeks Flat Creek – which typically averages 250 people in Sunday worship – would provide $1,000 a week to a church needing temporary relief. Though recipients thus far have been in Georgia, Williams said congregations throughout the country are eligible.
“We’ve had requests from as far away as Texas and Vermont,” he says. “But our initial heart is to help those in Georgia.”
Adding how he’s “overwhelmed and blessed” that Flat Creek’s deacons voted to move ahead on the outreach, Williams stresses that the church is looking for nothing in return. “This is meant to help churches stay open. I talked to a pastor yesterday who said that if his church receives this week what they did the previous two Sundays, that would total a Sunday’s giving before the coronavirus.”
Like other congregations, Flat Creek is finding ways to continue to minister. This afternoon Williams conducted a graveside funeral where only immediate family could attend to stay within crowd size recommendations. Before that, Youth Pastor Caleb Lang conducted a student Bible study over Zoom.
“These are strange times, but I praise God for churches responding to reach as many people as they can in this season,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
“I was reading in Matthew 16 recently. If the gates of hell can’t prevail against the Church, the coronavirus can’t either.”
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