Monday, January 5, 2009

Struggling Churches In Hard Times

Church foreclosures will no doubt be an ever-increasing problem in this tough economic climate as the article below indicates. Interestingly, not too long ago Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma laid off about 100 employees; yet in light of the layoffs and in the midst of ashes from the scandal rocking it; the University recently implemented a fair size construction project on campus. ( Expect good things--- that something good will happen to you! Release your seed(s) today! ) In all seriousness, I am not sure what the project is about. Maybe a large donation came through to build something… etc, as that seems more plausible given the layoffs and reported money woes…But back to the issue at hand; times are tough for many churches and many members of those churches. Even some of the mega-churches infamous for preaching the prosperity gospel have foreclosed on their properties. Hmmmm...something is amiss there.


*photo above appears with article

Making Cuts While Keeping Faith:
As churches deal with the economic downturn and cash shortfalls, they face hard decisions on spending
By Mary Giunca | Journal Reporter

Back in April, New Liberty Full Gospel Baptist Ministry had to move after its landlord raised the rent from $1,200 a month to $1,800 a month.

Now with donations at the church down about $10,000 from this time last year, the church might have to move again in search of lower rent, said the Rev. Linda Beal, the church's pastor.

Her church has about 30 members, and any economic downturn affects them quickly.

"The smaller churches don't have a backup plan," she said. "There's no bailout for us."

Across the region, churches and religious organizations are struggling to cope with cash shortfalls and an uncertain economy, even while encouraging the faithful not to cut back on their giving during the recession.

Some churches are freezing salaries, leaving staff positions vacant, or scaling back expansion plans.

There are no road maps for churches to follow during times like these.

Empty Tomb Inc., a Christian research group, recently released a report that studied recessions since 1968 and their effects on church-member giving. In some of the recessions, church-member giving declined and in the others, giving increased.

"You're a little nervous right now until you see how things are going to shake out," said the Rev. Jim Pollard, the associational missionary for the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association, which represents 91 congregations, most of which are in Forsyth County. The association helps congregations find staff members, mediate differences, coordinate disaster-relief programs and develop evangelism programs.

Beginning in September, the association began to hear from churches that were concerned about how they were going to end up for the year. Some churches were reporting shortfalls, and others had dipped into their cash reserves, he said.

Tough times were also reflected in the association's three toy stores, Pollard said, which open once a year at Christmas and give away toys for children up to 17 years old.

Congregations give money or toys to the effort he said, which are then sorted by volunteers. This year, there were three times as many applicants who wanted to receive the toys, but donations were down 20 percent from last year, he said.

If the recession continues into next year, churches may have to take more drastic measures, he said.

"I think we'll have some churches that will either have to close or lay off staffs," he said.

But he is reluctant to paint a picture that is all doom and gloom, he said.

Churches have a chance to make a positive influence on society with a message of hope and help, he said.

The Rev. Bill Ireland, the pastor of Ardmore Baptist Church, said that his church is about 12 percent below where it expected to be at this point in the year. Ireland said he noticed a gap earlier in the year, and the church started to cut back on spending then.

For the Rev. Michael Brown, the senior minister at Centenary United Methodist Church, the situation was serious enough to write to church members about the $928,400 needed to finish out 2008.

Brown asked members to do their best to fulfill pledges and commitments for the year.

In the letter, he also said that the church is requiring approval of all expenses over $500, closing the building earlier on some nights, and taking its bulletin online, except for those who specifically request a print copy.

The Rev. Wayne Burkette, the president of the Provincial Elders' Conference of the Moravian Church, Southern Province, said that the recession cuts across all socioeconomic lines in the 60 fellowships and congregations in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

"It's hard to predict," he said. "We probably haven't seen a recession like this -- maybe even in my lifetime."

He has not heard of any church putting expansion plans on hold, Burkette said, but everyone is looking at next year's budget carefully and wondering if end-of-year contributions will be sufficient to meet their budgets. A few churches have cut back on the donations they make to the province.

Many Moravian churches make specific appeals in conjunction with Christmas lovefeasts, he said, so the province won't have a full financial picture until after the holidays.

Tommy Cole, the director of Sunnyside Ministry of the Moravian Church, said that donations for the month of November were a little ahead of last year. The ministry has a clothes closet and food pantry, and it helps its clients with money for rent and other necessities.

"I've had a lot of people coming in here saying, ‘I want to make a donation. I'm not going to buy gifts. I'm going to make a donation to Sunnyside.'"

When Cole talks to local groups or sends out letters, he said, he stresses concern for one's neighbors and asks people to rethink how they spend Christmas. People seem to respond well.

"I think people are asking, ‘How did we get to this point that we're seeing how much we can blow on Christmas gifts, instead of taking some of whatever our budget is on Christmas and spending it on the needs of the people?'"

Sunnyside has cut out such discretionary spending as buying furniture and building maintenance, he said.

The ministry has a position open right now; it will wait until the end of January to fill it, and it might decide at that point to go with a part-time employee, he said.

The Rev. Haywood Gray said he recently attended a meeting of the N.C. Council of Churches at which he sat around a table with representatives of a dozen different denominations. Gray is the executive secretary-treasurer of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, which is the state's largest predominantly black body of Baptists.

Gray said he suppressed a chuckle as he listened to the tales of hardship from mainline Protestant denominations that were feeling a pinch for the first time in a long time. "This time is not new for most of the folks our convention represents," he said. "Job losses, foreclosures, homelessness and those issues are normal fare for our convention's churches.

"I don't think the sense of helplessness and hopelessness is as profound because we've seen these cycles before."

The convention doesn't keep formal statistics on member churches, Gray said, but from conversations with pastors, he senses that most of the congregations are seeing a 15 percent to 20 percent drop in contributions compared with last year.

When times get tough, he said, churches tend to cut such programs as sightseeing trips for children, but they will continue to support missions and such causes as feeding the hungry. "I've not seen distress, dismay," Gray said. "I've seen discomfort, certainly. We sort of see it as another lean time to embrace the faith and do what we're called to do."