The church and tough times

Do me a favor, will you? When you head to church on Sunday, check to see if there are more people there than usual.

The New York Times has a story that says the bad times are good … for evangelical churches.


Like evangelical churches around the country, the three churches have enjoyed steady growth over the last decade. But since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen such a burst of new interest that they find themselves contending with powerful conflicting emotions — deep empathy and quiet excitement — as they re-encounter an old piece of religious lore:

Bad times are good for evangelical churches.

“It’s a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us,” said the Rev. A. R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York’s largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.”

The story says attendance is also up at some of the mainstream churches, but nowhere near what it is at evangelical churches. Some studies suggest evangelical churches always find an upsurge during recessions.

The “why” of that is puzzling.


Msgr. Thomas McSweeney, who writes columns for Catholic publications and appears on MSNBC as a religion consultant, said the growth is fed by evangelicals’ flexibility: “Their tradition allows them to do things from the pulpit we don’t do — like ‘Hey! I need somebody to take Mrs. McSweeney to the doctor on Tuesday,’ or ‘We need volunteers at the soup kitchen tomorrow.’ “

I come from a mainstream religion. We never had a problem hollering for help for the Mrs. McSweeneys. The trouble with my old-time church was that there was nobody but Mrs. McSweeneys in the pews, which were mostly empty. The church in which my wife and I were married some 26 years ago, closed its doors for good a few weeks ago.

Church is one of the few places I can still go, and have people tell me it’s nice to see me, because it’s “good to see young people in the church.” I’m 54.

We’ll see if things are different tomorrow.

  • Al

    So Msgr. McSweeney, use your announcement time at the end of mass to say, “We need some help taking eldery residents to Dr. apts. this week. See Sister Mary after mass for details.” Use your sermon time to say something meaningful to people or introduce community service programs if that’s what you think will work.

    Of course, it could also be people leaving the Catholic Church because they know women can give a sermon just as well as men and their offended by the sexism. It could also be that they have friends who go to a church with a married minister, and guess what, that minister is actually able to preach and lead a congregation pretty well despite being married. Or maybe people aren’t going to Catholic churches because thay are tired of listening to priests and bishops use the word of the God of Love to justify haterd of gay people. Could it be that after considering all the of the doctrine and teachings of the Catholic Church and seeing so many examples of hyposcrisy and false logic that Catholics have a hard time figuring out what is true and holy?

    Yes, Msgr. McSweeny, you must be losing people because you are not allowed to announce service opportunites. Obviously they are going Evengelical churches for the volunteer job board.

  • Alison

    Bob – Are you looking for the obvious, that people are turn to God in tough times? Or are you trying to get at why they turn to Evangelical churches and not the others?

  • minn whaler

    Hard to say anything about attendance when it is the season of higher attendance. But ignoring that here are some other possibilities:

    1) Free entertainment and it gets you out of the house.

    2) Time to put aside personal worries and stress and spend it amongst those in similar or even worse situations.

    3) There is comfort in numbers.

    Why evangelical??? That’s a tough one because they are as different from one another as Catholics and Baptists.

  • Jim!!!

    Maybe the question is why do some people turn to charlatans for answers when times are hard?

  • minn whaler

    The lottery costs money?