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Weak Economy Hits Churches, Denominations

The Crystal Cathedral is pulling its 40-year “Hour of Power” program from eight of its 45 domestic markets in an attempt to avoid financial collapse. From 2008 to 2009, the church saw a 27 percent drop in revenue, which amounts to about $8 million, church spokesman Mike Nason told The Associated Press.
 

Church leaders are also selling 170 acres in southern Orange County and laying off 50 employees. The property is a church campus known as Rancho Capistrano. The property features a 20-acre retreat center. The remaining 150 acres are currently in escrow to be sold to Continuing Life Communities, a prepared statement from the church reported.

 

The board of directors has also canceled the annual Glory of Easter production due to the economic downturn. “[W]e anticipate a positive turnaround in our country as we look forward to the 2010 Glory of Christmas and 2011 Glory of Easter,” board chairman Robert Schuller said. “We dedicate ourselves to making that happen.”

 

The Crystal Cathedral may be the most high-profile church in financial crisis, but financial fractures continue to spread across churches and denominations.

 

A new survey by the Barna Research Group indicates that large churches have been hit harder by the economy than their smaller counterparts. While smaller churches have faced a greater percentage of loss, churches with at least 250 members are more likely to report a negative impact, the study shows.

 

“Perhaps clergy who work at larger churches feel the tightening more painfully because, in aggregate terms, their larger budgets account for a decrease in a greater number of total dollars,” the Barna Group reports.

 

The study indicated that charismatic denominations, black churches, Southern Baptists, congregations located in the Northeast and those whose pastors earn less than $40,000 were most likely to report their budget was down. Mainline churches and those with pastors earning between $40,000 and $60,000 annually were most likely to be holding ground.

 

Many state Baptist conventions have made cuts in their annual budgets, which in turn affects giving to the Cooperative Program, the method by which Southern Baptist churches voluntarily fund their state conventions and national headquarters.

 

The Nevada Baptist Convention will face an annual budget cut of 15.5 percent. The Georgia Baptist Convention is down 8.2 percent and cut 27 staff positions over the last year.

 

“This has been the most challenging economy in my memory and has significantly impacted all of us,” J. Robert White, Georgia Baptist Convention executive director, told the Christian Index.

 

“We are doing our very best to wisely manage the financial responsibilities of the convention and will continue to exercise a prudent approach,” he said. “We are very lean, but are fully committed to continue ministry among our churches and all the mission endeavors of the convention.”

 

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The Baptist General Convention of Texas’ $44 million budget represents a 10 percent cut from 2009. The Missouri Baptist Convention approved a budget with a 9 percent cut.

 

Southern Baptists of Texas, Baptist General Association of Virginia and the state conventions in Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania-South Jersey managed to increase budget amounts for 2010.

 

The Alabama Baptist Convention reports no budget increase or cuts, but will not give employees raises this year.

 

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board reports that it will have to reduce overseas mission personnel by nearly 600.

 

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lowered its 2010 budget by $5.76 million, or about 6 percent, according to the Presbyterian News Service. Most of the cuts are from a planned spend-down in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The denomination had a five-year commitment to relief in the Gulf Coast. By 2011, the allocated funds will be spent. There are no national staff cuts, the report stated.

 

United Methodist bishops voted to accept a reduced salary this year, returning to the 2008 level.

 

“It is a great opportunity to be in solidarity with a lot of our churches,” Bishop Peggy Johnson told the United Methodist News Service. “I say we should keep it the same for five more years. But that’s not very popular.”

 

United Methodists have had to significantly reduce staff this past year. No United Methodist general agency employee will receive a raise this year. The UMC approves budgets on a four-year plan.

 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is reducing its 2010 budget by $7.7 million – about 10 percent of the 2009 figures. The Church Council’s action cuts 40.75 full-time equivalent positions. Six of those positions were vacant. This comes after the church issued a hiring freeze in 2009 and intentionally underspent its budget allocation.

 

“We will be doing less with less, and we will focus on what can be done and done well,” said M. Wyvetta Bullock, ELCA executive for administration.

 

Jennifer Harris is a former Word & Way news writer, who is now a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kan.