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.