Conundrum: Churches in Economically-Challenged Areas Struggle to Serve the People Who Support Them

After leading the New Year's Eve service, Pastor Yoan Mora leaves the Primera Iglesia Cristiana in the West Side neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, on December 31, 2017.
After leading the New Year’s Eve service, Pastor Yoan Mora leaves the Primera Iglesia Cristiana in the West Side neighborhood of San Antonio, Texas, on December 31, 2017.churches

The institutions need money to serve people. But in many cases, they get that money from those they serve.

If there is ever a competition for the title of Busiest Minister in America, the smart money will be on Yoan Mora, senior pastor of Primera Iglesia Cristiana, a small but vibrant Spanish-speaking congregation in San Antonio, Texas. The weeks are nuts: worship services, classes, and meetings on Sundays; a radio program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; prayer service and Bible study on Tuesdays; house church meetings in the southern reaches of the city each Thursday; a job-training program hosted at the church on Saturdays, plus other meetings scattered through the weekend.

Those are just his top-level duties. He still has to find time to write sermons, oversee church-building maintenance, teach small groups, manage budgets, and, most of all, be with people in all the ways pastors need to be with people: births, deaths, sicknesses, celebrations, life events big, medium, and small. Being a pastor is a full-time job, and then some.

But being a pastor is not Mora’s full-time job. Most of Mora’s weekday hours are devoted to his work as an accountant at a health-care clinic in the northeast part of town. He’s also trying to finish a master’s degree in theology.

Mora believes he was placed on this earth to pastor, so that’s what he plans on doing. But for now, he can’t make a living as a pastor because the congregation he serves is in an extremely low-income neighborhood. Pastor salaries are drawn from church budgets, which are drawn from the household budgets of congregants. So in a low-income area, even when a church grows, its budget does not expand so much as stretch. Primera Iglesia Cristiana can’t pay Mora much for all his efforts, so for the foreseeable future, he’ll hustle.

Mora appears to be good at his juggling act. Primera Iglesia Cristiana now sees 50-60 attendees on any given Sunday, which amounts to a comeback: The church, which was founded in 1899, experienced something of a heyday in the mid-century, then saw a precipitous decline from the 1980s forward. By the time Mora arrived in 2011, Primera Iglesia Cristiana consisted of four old-timers who would gather for Sunday worship behind closed doors.

Mora shakes his head at the memory. “I say to them, ‘Why you no open the church doors to the community?’ They say, ‘Because we need to save money for air conditioning.’”

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SOURCE: PATTON DODD 
The Atlantic