April 2, 2016
Love INC helps churches band together to help people in need.
Matt Wolcott thinks a lot of churches are doing great things in Billings. “But there’s so much more that could be done if we were working together,” said Wolcott, board president of the newly formed Billings affiliate, Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), of Yellowstone County.
The national organization brings together churches across a wide swath of denominations under one umbrella to aid people seeking help, Wolcott said. “We see this as an opportunity to mobilize individual people sitting in pews,” he said. “It’s a way for ordinary people to meet needs in the community in extraordinary ways.”
He hopes to draw a lot of people to an open house on Tuesday, to learn more about the fledgling Billings ministry.
Love INC, which was founded in 1977, has more than 140 affiliates in 30 states representing more than 9,000 churches, 7,000 community-based organizations and 300,000 volunteers. It is collaboration of Christian churches, but it offers help to anyone.
“Anybody can come to Love INC for help,” Wolcott said. “We’re not there to proselytize, we’re there to help.”
In Billings, six churches are on the ground floor of the new organization: Rocky Mountain Community Church, First Christian Church, Great Plains Gathering, Trinity Lutheran Church, Emmanuel Baptist Church and Faith E Church.
Wolcott was directed to the churches when he and his wife, Jennifer, contacted the nonprofit to look into starting a Billings chapter. He isn’t a stranger to Love INC, having founded an affiliate in Juneau, Alaska in 2005, where he served as director for a year.
“We met together and decided that something was needed in Billings,” Wolcott said in an interview. “That we should form a development board and begin to lay a foundation for it.”
Since then, the group applied for and received its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and filed as a corporation with the state of Montana.
To explain how Love INC works, Wolcott gave an example of how the Juneau affiliate, with 2,500 volunteers and 31 partner churches, was able to find a need and fill it.
In the Alaskan capital city, a shelter helped women and children escape domestic abuse. In meeting with its leaders, Wolcott suggested that his office could partner with the shelter to help their clients once they left the shelter. Love INC members partnered to help meet a client’s food needs for six months, offered baby furniture, formula, diapers, kitchen goods, appliances, and even a car, he said.
“So when they were ready to move out of transitional housing, they could take everything with them,” Wolcott said. And, they’d be taught life skills to give them the best chance to be successful. That can happen because partner churches are tapped to focus their efforts on one ministry, Wolcott said.
Rather than multiple churches doing food pantries or car-servicing, different congregations specialize.
“Churches will adopt one they do well, that they feel strongly about,” Wolcott said. Each will fulfill what he called a “gap ministry,” to fill voids in services. The other side of that is that the affiliate will coordinate with service agencies in town to prevent duplication of efforts.
Churches often get requests from individuals for money, gas food, rent and other essential needs. It can be difficult to know if the person is genuinely in need or traveling the church circuit to get what they can.
“What tends to happen is you get open-handed giving with no conditions or closed-fisted giving that says ‘we don’t know who to trust so we don’t give anything,’ ” Wolcott said. “And neither one of those is the best stewardship of resources.”
The Love INC affiliate will act as a clearing house, meeting with clients requesting help, certifying their need and then linking them with the proper resources. That way, if churches are asked to help, “they know this is a legitimate request,” he said.
The affiliate hopes to have an executive director on board by mid-April. That person will spend time between April and the start of September surveying church ministries, building a registry of partner churches and volunteers, and meeting with the heads of service agencies.
The other goal will be to get a clearing house up and running by the opening date. The affiliate is looking for a neutral nonchurch donated space to house the office.
Churches from different denominations don’t always see eye to eye. But Wolcott said Love INC gives them something on which they can agree.
“What I tell them is we’re all called to show the love of Christ to those in need, and none of us should be able to disagree on that point,” he said. “Every member in every church is gifted and equipped with time, gifts and resources to help those in need.”