Churches struggling in this recession?

Worried about having enough cash to pay the bills, a Minnesota pastor told me recently his church negotiated a bank line of credit.It was the first time in 30-plus years of ministry, he said, that his church needed a short term loan.

The church hadn’t tapped the credit line yet but might need to by summer’s end.

It’s a sensitive topic and he asked me not to use his name. But his point was clear. The recession is taking a toll on some religious institutions.

We’ve asked ministers in our Public Insight Network about how their congregations are faring. They tell us their churches are holding their own for the most part.

Evelyn Weston, a Public Insight source who’s a minister in southwest Minnesota, told us today:

From what I’ve heard from leaders in our parish, our churches are doing about the same as usual financially. There always is a slump in giving during the summer.

Nationally, data show some tough times.

Nearly a third of the churches responding to a survey earlier this year by the National Association of Church Business Administration said they were struggling financially, up from 14 percent last August.

Another 25 percent said they were seeing slower times but weren’t sure if it was simply a normal cycle and not the recession. Nearly half said they had frozen or cut staff benefits, up from 18 percent last August.

The surveys didn’t ask church leaders how they were faring. But in many cases, being a minister means moving every few years and that can take its own toll.

Says Weston:

Some pastors have taken new calls and had to sell their home for less than the mortgage. For those pastors who own a home, they’re really feeling stuck. Moving means taking a financial loss for the sake of their ministry. One mentioned that if that’s what God is calling them to do, they’re willing to make that sacrifice.

In rural areas, where church-owned parsonages are more common, pastors do seem to feel more free to take a new call and move.

It used to be that pastors thought it was better to own their own home, since their investment would appreciate over time. But now it looks like those of us who live in parsonages are better off in many ways.

One other interesting twist out of that national survey: 26 percent said they’ve seen church attendance rise in the recession.

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