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COVINA, Calif.—It wasn’t Easter, Christmas, or soup kitchen day at Christ First Baptist Church in Covina, Calif., but a hot Thursday morning. A line of about 200 men and women—of all ages and ethnicities—stood in the church courtyard, fanning themselves with resumé folders. Some had dressed in blouse and slacks or suit and tie, while others wore jeans and sneakers. All were locals looking for jobs—and many were unchurched.
The April job fair at Christ First was the church’s first partnership with Church Job Fairs, a faith-based organization that helps churches plan and promote job recruitment events. Unlike the massive, crowded job fairs typically held in hotels or convention centers downtown, Church Job Fairs events take place in local churches for the local community. The idea is simple: A church is meant to be a place of hope, encouragement, and love to its community. So why not host a job fair in a church and meet both physical and spiritual needs?
Christ First senior pastor James Laing said his church regularly serves the homeless but also wanted a ministry that “doesn’t just give people handouts.” Hosting a job fair in his church, Laing said, is a way to bless the community with no strings attached—while also building relationships: “I can’t think of anywhere else where I as a pastor get to talk to 20 people in a room who are unchurched. And they’re all coming to us.”
That morning, Laing gave multiple five-minute welcome speeches to groups of about 20 job seekers. “Put up your hand if you’re nervous,” he told one group. Most people raised their hands. Laing nodded sympathetically and told them he’d been in their spot numerous times. He shared his story: “The only thing I didn’t like more than searching for a job was Christians. ... I would probably jump off a bridge as a 16-year-old teenager if I knew I would one day become a ‘professional Christian.’” He then concluded, “I believe in a God who loves you. Even if there’s a slightest chance that there’s a God, wouldn’t you want Him on your side?”
After the speech, Laing and his youth pastor prayed for the group and directed it to the main sanctuary, where recruiters from about 35 local companies were waiting at their booths. As the group shuffled out and a new group entered the room, one woman lingered to ask about the church’s youth group for her 16-year-old daughter.
Laing said hosting a job fair in his church is a way to bless the community with no strings attached—while also building relationships.
Gerhard Kramer founded Church Job Fairs two years ago after his church in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., held a job fair to reach the community. At that fair, 40 recruiters and hundreds of job seekers showed up.
Kramer ultimately quit his job as a salesman for the Los Angeles Times to promote Church Job Fairs full time. Since 2014, about 10,000 people have attended 60 Church Job Fairs, and by the end of 2016 they will have hosted more than 60 events held in churches all across Southern California. Kramer estimates about 80 percent of those job seekers have never been inside church doors. He can name at least 20 people who have professed Christ through the job fairs.
About 9 out of 10 employers return after first participating in one of the events. Recruiters told me they like Church Job Fairs for its “personal touch”: Instead of packing everyone into the room at once—usually resulting in several job seekers queuing up to speak with one frazzled recruiter—job seekers enter in groups of about 20. First they meet in a separate room with the church pastor, who welcomes them with a brief gospel presentation and prayer. Next they receive a bottle of water and breath-freshening mints before meeting the recruiters from local companies. Then as job seekers leave the fair, swinging bags stuffed with company brochures and job application forms, church volunteers ask if they can pray for them.
That day at Christ First, nearly everybody said yes to offers of prayer. Volunteers laid their hands on shoulders or held hands as they prayed aloud for God’s love and provision. One job seeker, a gray-bearded man of 57, said he recently lost his job of 37 years at a food plant. Another man, 32-year-old Michael Dixon, lost his dishwashing job and has been looking for stable work for 18 months.
Mike Ulrich, a lean, 55-year-old former carpenter who’s now homeless, said he’s been to many job fairs but liked this one because “they took the anxiety away.” Though he doesn’t attend church, Ulrich said he appreciated the prayers. Already, he feels them working: He had just talked to the recruiters of Heavy Equipment College of California, a training school in heavy equipment operations, and was pumped about applying. “I’m going to school!” he said with a grin. “One day I’ll be able to go down a freeway I helped build, and my kids will say, ‘My daddy did that!’”