That line usually is followed by, “We’ve got to think in new ways.”
We’ve heard it at work and at home, and it tends to make us roll our eyes—or wish for the good old days when finances were flush.
But local churches have taken up that challenge. Faced with a down economy and a general decrease in tithing, they’ve found ways to stay focused on their missions.
The Barna Group, the California-based organization that studies national church trends, reported that 57 percent of pastors and church executives said the economy has affected their churches.
Across all Protestant churches, budgets are down about 7 percent from a year ago, the study reported.
“Among those churches with contracting income, smaller churches were the hardest hit: churches of 100 or fewer adults who had shrinking revenue had lost 16 percent; those with 100 to 250 adults were off by 13 percent,” according to the Web site barna.org? .
Local churches didn’t want to talk budget specifics but shared ways their congregations were rising to meet economic challenges.
The Rev. Jerry Amstutz leads First Baptist Church in Janesville.
When he started at the church, the congregation could afford only a part-time minister.
That suited his needs exactly.
Amstutz has his own parttime ministry, Autumn Life. He serves as a chaplain at several retirement homes for those who might not be a part of a church community. He also leads funerals and marriages for families who want a Christian ceremony but who, again, are “unchurched.”
He enjoys both of his jobs.
“I think you’re going to see more bi-vocational ministers,” Amstutz said. “For many churches, it’s hard to afford a full-time salary and health benefits.”
For his congregation, his part-time status means the congregation can focus on mission.
Giving has increased, and the church can continue its work with ministries such as the GIFTS men’s homeless shelter and the Wilson School Breakfast Club.
Other area churches have seen their members embrace hard times as a call to service.
“During crunch time, church members have stepped up to the plate,” said the Rev. Barbara Wells of Cargill United Methodist Church. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor; people want to do hands on work.”
The congregation has been a long-time supporter of ECHO and hosts a free meal on the third Saturday of the month.
They’ve also begun supporting Love INC, a church-supported agency serves as a “gap” ministry, meeting needs that “fall through the gap.”
Cargill also has become a site for the GIFTS men’s homeless shelter.
“We’re called to be servants,” Wells said.