by John Carlisle

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“One important way we are addressing [decreased giving] is by more individual volunteering of time,” explains the Rev. David Gray, pastor at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md. “The layoffs and reduced work hours mean people have less money but more time.” Gray, who is also director for the Workforce and Family Program and Religious Center Initiative of the New America Foundation, thinks that volunteer church members can be inspired to perform tasks that churches usually pay for, such as maintenance. “Some people are dusting off their hammer holders and have clearer schedules during the week. I think several churches will make it their Lenten challenge – that their flocks give up more of their time to volunteer to help those in need.”

The Rev. Miriam Acevedo leads St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Hampstead, N.H., and has noticed many in her community and parish being throttled by the economy – from lost wages to expiring health care coverage. But she knows she can’t help them all by herself, especially as she’s “spending more time doing pastoral care, as some people are increasingly anxious about what is going to happen next.”

To help the situation, she’s enlisting a committee of members to operate a parish network, which people from the church and community can go to for assistance. “So far, I’ve been able to cover most requests for money,” she says of her allocations for members in need. “I did request some funds from a parish member who is doing well to cover a family that couldn’t get gifts for their children at Christmas.” Part of the committee’s job, Acevedo says, will be to provide career advice, financial counseling and strategy, and even to connect people with services such as dental care and haircuts from the parishioners who happen to be dentists or stylists.

If people in general have more time off, it seems logical that worship numbers might increase. However, a recession’s effect on church attendance is debatable, particularly as relates to evangelical churches. As mentioned in a New York Times article, David Beckworth, an economics professor at Texas State University, conducted a study that showed evangelical churches grew by 50 percent in recession cycles between 1968 and 2004. In contrast, a recent Church Solutions reader poll showed that, since the financial crisis hit in mid-September, church attendance has increased at only 17 percent of churches, stayed the same at 51 percent and even decreased at 32 percent.

Cutbacks

Regardless of church attendance numbers, giving doesn’t seem to be increasing. As such, many church leaders are devising creative ways to save money and generate revenue. …

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