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Economic outlook for churches: Less money, more need?

FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Dress shoes squeak on the gym floor of Moore Elementary School as members of the Heritage church file in for worship.
As they flip through their hymnals and join their voices in song, they anticipate the day they’ll worship in a brand new building — with old pews.
The 250-member congregation, launched five years ago, probably could afford new furniture. In the past two years church leaders have pulled together about $2 million for the new facility from the weekly budget
and donations — without a formal capital campaign.
“We’re in a very strong financial position,” minister Paul Forshey said.
So why settle for used pews?
“It’s the economy,” said Dwight Stacey, one of the church’s four elders. “Everybody’s watching every penny they’re spending.”
That includes churches in Tennessee’s prosperous Williamson County, considered one of the wealthiest in the country. The Heritage church could save more than $75,000 by taking the free pews, which another church is discarding as it renovates, Forshey said.
From the volatile oil patches of Texas to the cash-strapped suburbs of Detroit, elders, ministers and church treasurers told The Christian Chronicle that they’re prayerfully considering the economy as they finalize 2009 church budgets.
About 600 miles north of Franklin, the Lake Orion, Mich., church is keenly aware of the nation’s financial crisis. Less than 40 miles from Detroit, the small town is “pretty close to ground zero for the economy slowdown,” said Andy Borchers, an elder at the 150-member congregation.
“We have seen some families move out of the area and others face retirement sooner than expected,” Borchers said.
At the same time, the church sees increasing need in its community.
Members do home improvement projects for low-income families and are active in God’s Helping Hands, a food and clothing outreach overseen by Churches of Christ. “Demand there is greater than ever,” Borchers said.
Members pray frequently about the economy as leaders set the 2009 budget.
“We believe that budgets reflect values — and as Christians our budgets must reflect God’s values,” Borchers said.
As they gauge finances in the coming year, church leaders face economic factors that vary from state to state — and city to city.
• “Due to some sacrificial giving, we are staying in the black,” said Roger Woods, a minister and elder of the church in Walled Lake, Mich., another Detroit suburb. “If the Big Three (automakers) were to fall, we would be in dire straits.”
Most of the church’s 160 members don’t work in the auto industry.
“However, many have experienced layoffs and salary reductions,” Woods said. The church’s 2009 budget will be close to its 2008 level, with no salary increases for its staff.
• Most of the working-age members of the Desert church in Kingman, Ariz., are blessed with steady jobs, minister Steve McCall said. “Right now we are financially sound — and actually are looking to do more (benevolence) in the coming year,” McCall said.
• In Wilkesboro, N.C., “there has been a noticeable increase in benevolence requests in the past three months,” deacon Greg Brewer said. The Wilkesboro church is evaluating its budget and hopes to increase its benevolence spending, Brewer said.
• High fuel prices in mid-2008 gave a boost to West Texas, said Jay Kelley, evangelist for the Levelland, Texas, church. Church members have seen significant drops in retirement accounts, but “we do not expect the economy to affect our church budget,” Kelley said. “God will make up the difference.”
• In the Dallas area, people are spending and giving less, said Mike Shearer, a deacon in charge of finances for the Waterview church in Richardson, Texas. Members mention the economy in almost every public prayer, Shearer said, and leaders are looking at travel expenses and other budget items for possible reductions.
In middle Tennessee, members of the Heritage church realize that “we’re probably suffering less than the norm,” Stacey said.
With an ever-growing list of needs around the world, the church’s leaders struggled with the decision to construct a building at all. Before breaking ground, Heritage elders prayerfully considered ways to reduce costs.
In addition to used pews, the church has worked with architects to trim about half a million dollars from the building’s price, Forshey said.
The savings should allow the church — even if the economy worsens — to maintain its level of spending for benevolence and missions.
The church supports mission work in Italy and Honduras and World Christian Broadcasting, an international radio ministry. The congregation also supports Graceworks, a Williamson County benevolent organization, and is active in the Meals on Wheels program.
Most of the church leaders contacted by the Chronicle said their congregations are making efforts to maintain their spending level for benevolence and outreach. But, if the economy worsens, “we may be a little slower to take on new works,” Kelley said, echoing several church leaders.
Although money is tight, Suzy Brown encouraged churches to look for new ways to minister to their communities.
Brown, a member of the Overland Park, Kan., church, oversees a divorce recovery ministry. A faltering economy can wreak havoc on marriages, Brown said, and churches should be ready to help believers and non-believers with counseling and support.
“I do believe that the economic downturn will allow us to minister to people as never before,” she said.

  • Feedback
    Sometimes as I listen to Dave Ramsey, I wonder what the percentage is of Christians that are deep in debt? Having to make big car payments, credit cards max to the limit. Living weekly from pay check to pay check.
    February, 25 2009

Filed under: National

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