Bad economy bringing churches to their knees

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    By Taylor White

    High food prices and neighborhoods full of foreclosing homes are just some of the more noticeable issues facing citizens when the economy is bad, but religion is also affected.

    Pastor Steve Brumbaugh, with the Victory Baptist church in West Jordan, shares his experiences with the relationship between the economy and religion.

    “Attendance has been staying the same, but collections have been increasingly going down,” he said. “The connection between the slow economy and the decrease in collections is only to be expected. I have many members without jobs, and they just can”t afford to give like they once used to.”

    Brumbaugh”s experience with having less money in the church budget trickles down into all aspects of a religious institution. Programs may have to be cut, members may not get as much financial assistance as they need, and a religious institution could ultimately end up going out of business.

    However, Brumbaugh”s experience with the Baptist church is not universal.

    Dan Slyter, an assistant pastor at the Southland Bible Church, whose job is to track attendance and growth, said the poor economic times have brought about a surprising effect.

    “Here at Southland we have noticed that we are on pretty much the same growth curve when it comes to attendance and expansion,” he said. “However, giving has gone up. We have quite a few in our church that have lost jobs and have no income, and yet giving has gone up. We have many retired people that have lost a lot of retirement savings, and where it would seem that giving would go down, the opposite has been true.”

    The phenomenon that Slyter explained may seem strange, but he explains the occurrence to be related to the strength of the members.

    “They must feel God wants them to maintain donations rather than cut back,” Slyter said.

    Slyter said the Southland church never preached about needing to increase donations because of tough economic times. The financial increase the church has seen has solely been because of the generosity of the members, he said.

    “We never preach on giving or even suggest what amounts to give,” Slyter wrote in am e-mail. “We just ask the members that they pray about the following things: what church(s) or mission agency(s) to donate to, what amount to donate, and that the members consider evangelism being important when deciding what entity(s) to donate to.”

    Julie Peterson, a sophomore from Dallas, majoring in nursing, said she believes the economy affects religion, but in a roundabout way.

    “I think that people in economic distress would be more willing to turn towards religion, and therefore attendance in church would go up,” she said. “The economy also has affected BYU, and that has been displayed through the hiring freeze.”

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