Churches hold steady in recession

Published 5:36 pm Friday, February 6, 2009

While the country’s houses of faith are said to be feeling the pinch of a recession, several local congregations seem to be holding steady in their giving.

Allen Stephenson, pastor of two south Butler County churches – First Baptist of Georgiana and Mt. Pisgah Baptist – said offerings in his churches “have held up really well.”

“Many of our people are already on fixed incomes. You could say they’ve been living with a recession for a while,” Stephenson said.

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“We really haven’t seen a difference in attendance or in our offerings yet.

The pastor said some in his congregations were dealing with job loss and with reductions in their hours.

“South Butler County has really been hit by cutbacks at the Chapman plant (Chapman Forest Products) and that has affected a number of members of our congregations,” Stephenson said.

“We are looking for ways we can minister to those who have been affected. And church can also be a good source for people to find jobs in times of high employment.”

At Covenant Warriors Church in Greenville, pastor Leander Robinson said he gives thanks his flock has “not been hit too hard yet” by the economic downturn.

“We have had a couple of people who have lost their jobs. One has relocated and the other is still seeking employment. We have others who have had their works cut back at work,” Robinson said. “We don’t take it lightly for those facing possible job loss.”

He said he is in the fourth year of teaching classes at his church on financial freedom, which he hopes will be of particular help in these hard economic times.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work on budgeting and stewardship to help our people be better stewards of their monies,” Robinson said.

“My wife and I have discontinued using credit cards for personal use and we aren’t using them for church purchases. We hope to set a good example for our congregation. We believe if God has supplied you with an income, then it’s your turn to do right by God in how you use that money.”

Robinson said Covenant Warriors would also do what was necessary to “stay in touch” to find and help those in need.

One of Greenville’s largest congregations, Southside Baptist, has “remained steady” in its giving, says longtime pastor Herbert Brown.

“We had a good, solid offering at the first of this month as we did last month,” Brown said.

“We have some great people with very giving hearts.”

As with other congregations, Brown has seen several cases of members losing jobs and losing hours on the job.

“We want to do what we can to help them. And in terms of our budget, we were very careful this year,” Brown said.

“We didn’t add any extras; there were no increases in salaries. This seemed to be an encouragement to our people, when they saw us willing to tighten our belts.”

Brown lauded his congregation’s positive attitude, including their growing excitement over their Relay For Life team.

“What we share is that Christians don’t need to sink into despair during hard times. We have to be the best stewards of what we have and keep on moving forward,” the pastor said.

A new nationwide survey from The Barna Group indicates many churches and non-profit organizations have been affected by the recession, with Americans cutting back substantially on their giving during the fourth quarter of 2008. According to the survey, one out of every five households has decreased its giving to churches or other religious centers, with church cutbacks most common among downscale households (annual income less than $20,000 and no college education) and those struggling with “serious financial debt.”