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Posted: November 4, 2010 11:30 p.m.

Churches get creative in dealing with recession

Chris Queen/

Trey Bailey, executive pastor of Eastridge Community Church and Director of Accounting Michelle Coward look over a financial report. The economic recession that has affected people and businesses has also affected businesses, forcing them to use...

The recent downturn in the economy has affected everyone. Tens of thousands of Georgians have lost their jobs, and even those who are employed have friends, family, or neighbors who are out of work. Many with jobs have suffered pay cuts or taken jobs with less pay.

The economic downturn has affected Newton County’s faith community, too. It’s led to churches and other religious institutions handling the recession creatively and in ways that show strong faith.

Eastridge Community Church in Covington reports that contributions have declined 10 percent this year. Director of Accounting Michelle Coward attributes the decreased giving to a slight decline in attendance as well as to the economy, but she notes that per capita giving at the church actually increased. Members have also donated resources when necessary.

"I think the congregation is using their limited monies wisely," said Coward. "When they have it, they give it. Staff has had to get creative with their spending along with keeping their same goals for 2010. We’ve made a lot of use of volunteers. Go Orange (the vacation Bible school program this year) was a prime example of that. Volunteers were asked to donate not only their time but any resources they had access to as well."

"The people of Eastridge are constantly amazing me with their generosity," said Trey Bailey, the church’s executive pastor. "Many in our church have been affected by the economy and we have seen people help each other out on the personal level. We’ve seen people sell possessions to help a friend. We’ve seen struggling construction workers do home repairs for church members and renovate classrooms and walkways on campus. We’ve seen people take large portions of their savings accounts to help spread the gospel. We’ve seen an orphanage saved in Haiti with a single-day special offering. I believe many of our families would rather suffer than see someone else suffer."

The church was proactive at the outset of the recession. In late 2007, a retired congregant, Monty Eckles, helped the church trim its budget to prepare for the economic storm. Eckles helped the church trim expenses and staff better to fit the budget to the church’s mission. As a result, the church staff weighs any budgetary needs against the church’s vision of "making disciples who follow Jesus Christ." All spending is preapproved by Bailey or Coward, and staff members have gotten creative in figuring out how to get more for their buck.

At First Presbyterian Church of Covington, the 2010 budget was planned around a 5 percent decline in contributions due to the economy, but the church has only seen about half that loss this year, according to Jay Lanners, finance committee chair, said the decline in contributions was alleviated by an increase in membership.

First Baptist Church in Covington has seen a 75 percent increase in contributions over the past five years, according to Charles Reynolds, church administrator. The church has held two capital campaigns in that time period, as well as their current fundraiser.

Doug Gilreath, pastor of First United Methodist in Covington, said that giving has been up this year, though slightly, and that they have been able to meet expenses throughout the year.

"I tell our congregation that we set the budget based on the ministries and outreach we feel led to accomplish through the year," said Gilreath. "But the reality is what comes in each week. We haven’t had to lay off staff or cut any ministries this year."

Other faith-based institutions have borne the brunt of a difficult economy. Local food banks have run out of food several times in the last couple of years, but churches and individuals have stepped up to help replenish them. Clara Lett, pastor of Rainbow Covenant Ministries, said that contributions to the ministry’s Garden of Gethsemane homeless shelter have declined, while the number of people served by the shelter has risen.

Dealing with the economic downturn has increased the faith of many:

"I’ve seen God work, and he’s been real," said Coward. "He has provided week to week. Have we had to get creative and spend our money wisely? Absolutely, but we should have been doing that all along. Even when times are good, God calls us to be good stewards. I’ve seen his handprint every week when it’s time to pay bills. We haven’t done without anything we couldn’t have done without in the first place."

"We are currently in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign," said Lanners. "We have changed our stewardship process and believe that there is a good possibility that in spite of the recession, we will see a 1-10 percent increase in committed giving for 2011."

"I have learned that God’s love is not determined by a nation’s economy," said Bailey. "I can get so wrapped up in pursuing my own comforts that I forget that Christ called me to surrender, sacrifice, give, show compassion, and take care of the needy. When all of those things you "work for" fail you, when the economy tanks and the American Dream of wealth and opportunity seems like a fairy tale, when your family is affected by foreclosure, bankruptcy, and layoffs, there is only one true hope: Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is recession-proof. He promises to take care of me and that’s a promise I’ve decided to buy stock in."

"We have a group of extremely generous people at our church," said Gilreath. "They are willing to make sacrifices to make sure our ministries continue."

"Our church has also given a record amounts to missions locally and around the world in the past three years," said Reynolds. "This speaks to our people’s passion for the Lord and God’s continued provision for his work at First Baptist."

"God always provides," said Lett. "I never have to doubt that."

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