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How the Equip Program Assists Pregnancy Centers

equip pregnancy centers Mar 20, 2024
Tammy Abernethy of Hope Women

Christian pregnancy centers are well-known and common in many metropolitan areas as places that women can rely on for free pregnancy tests, prenatal care, and more. They are often supported financially by community churches in an attempt to care for a portion of the population in a time of great need. In recent years, there has been controversy over some of the practices used at these centers, many of which are misleading. Mainstream Christian pregnancy centers have long been viewed as a way to convince those experiencing unintended pregnancy away from abortion. They are most often Pro-Life-aligned and participate in Pro-Life events and activism. The members of the Equip program are different. They view their work as an extension of the Great Commission and a tangible way to support those in need in their communities. Read on to learn more about Equip and the programs that participate. 

Equip is an online learning community and resource library with training and tools for a consistent message internally and externally. This means that, through the program, centers have access to training materials and resources to ensure alignment between the center’s values and the actions of individual staff members and volunteers. Equip also provides a much-needed community for members of these organizations who feel alone in their approach to the work. Many of our participants felt as though they were the only people feeling like the Christian response to unintended pregnancy did not align with their faith, and changing their business practices to reflect their beliefs. This looks like a center promoting care over judgment, focusing on the overall well-being of the expectant mother rather than focusing only on her decision whether or not to continue the pregnancy. 

“Scripture tells us that God has authority over all things on heaven and earth. And we forget that degree of authority. And we seem to think, ‘oh, we need to step in and try to control this’ instead of going, ‘no, no, we don't have authority here and we don't have to force anything on anybody.’ We need to do what Jesus has called us to and trust that He will move hearts. He will change minds and He will change lives. We have a part to play, absolutely. And we need to be so diligent about that part and faithful, but we have no control at the end of the day.” -Kristen Lonberger, COO of Living Alternatives and Equip Participant

 Equip resources assist organizations in training their staff and volunteers to ensure that the representatives of their company are acting in accordance with the values of the company. This is extremely important in the pregnancy support service industry. The shift in mindset that comes through Equip training leads to a different way of speaking and interacting with clients, and reinforces the belief that grace is more important than control. Equip encourages staff to listen to God, rather than culture or opinion, and to seek examples in Scripture. The organization’s staff is given the language to communicate the message of grace, and the ability to interact with clients in a way that is consistent with their Christian faith. This grace-based approach makes clients feel more comfortable, at ease, and cared for, leading to more supportive interactions. Many of our participants have reported that the reputation of their center has improved since implementing Equip. Kristen Lonberger, COO of Living Alternatives Pregnancy Centers, even reported a client who came to one of their locations, ended up ordering a meal and falling asleep in one of their chairs. She needed peace and to feel safe, and the center felt like a place where she could let her guard down. This is the result of the Christ-based client service model that Equip assists centers in implementing.

For many Equip participants, the difference is in the language that ProGrace teaches. When staff switch to grace-based language rather than persuasive language, clients feel listened to and respected to make their own decisions. They feel comfortable with the staff, and trust them to treat them with respect and agency. This respect is based on the principle that each person is equally loved by God. One of the ProGrace foundational beliefs is that God equally loves both the woman and the child, making it impossible to separate the needs of one from the other.

“I knew that we had to treat our clients the way that Jesus would. We emphasize listening to our clients and understanding their personalities, circumstances, and stories. Sometimes, that means meeting with a person in the most difficult and vulnerable place in her life and being the recipient of her story or the story of her trauma. It is heavy and emotional work to carry these stories within ourselves and love others the way we have been loved.” - Andrea Capuyan, Executive Director of the Laurel Pregnancy Center in the Baltimore metro area 

Access to resources is available at any point during the membership period, and many organizations find the resources helpful in both engaging with and partnering with churches and the community. Through Equip, participants are kept informed of the latest news that will affect their industry, and have access to the thought leadership and ideas of ProGrace as well as the Equip community. They can have their specific questions answered by people who truly understand the work and its unique challenges. The Equip community spans across North America, and our member organizations have a combined total of over 1600 staff and volunteers who reach more than 6500 clients each year. As Kristen Lonberger related to Angela on Episode 10 of the ProGrace Podcast, one of the things they love about ProGrace is that “it's not just saying, ‘oh, here's my opinion on it.’ It's going back to Scripture and unpacking Scripture.” The entire program is organized into a monthly training schedule but can be experienced at whichever pace best suits the organization. 
The training begins by taking participants through the Transform curriculum and continues with live sessions and additional information and resources as the program progresses. Using Equip helps centers streamline their training process and improves trust between center leadership, staff, and volunteers, making the service experience more consistent at every level. In the words of Andrea Capuyan of Laurel Pregnancy Center, “The ProGrace Transform and Equip courses and community gave us the language to express our grace-centered approach in a way [our employees and volunteers] can understand. It also fosters empathy and understanding, which our staff take into client relationships.” When participating in Equip, the program runs smoothly, simplifying and streamlining the training process to allow leadership to focus on expanding their work and deepening community and church relationships. The compassion and dedication our Equip members have to help people during one of their most life-altering moments is truly inspirational. They are doing difficult work, which can be emotionally draining. Equip can lessen the load these members carry by making training and onboarding easier and more intentional. The program assists with alignment and consistency among paid staff and volunteers, all to ensure that each client is treated with dignity and respect, and offers an understanding of the love and grace of Jesus.

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