Photo: James Estrin/New York Times
For about a month now I've been asked two questions with some frequency:
1) Father, have you noticed more people coming to church with the economy so bad?
2) Father, have you seen a drop-off in the collection with the economy so bad?
My answers to these questions have been:
1) I haven't seen an uptick in attendance. In fact, like many parishes in the archdiocese, there's been a decrease in attendance over the past couple of years.
2) While our offertory collection is down 7% compared to last year, that trend predates the economic crisis.
But this weekend - something happened. This weekend was the most full I have seen my church in over a year. We don't do weekly head counts in the parish so my observations here are eyeball, not calculator derived. But there was definitely an increase in attendance at all our liturgies this weekend. Praise God!
I hope this is the first of many similar weekends - only time will tell. Is this related to the economy? I don't know. But the New York Times reports today that evangelical churches are seizing the moment and are finding their pews filled to overflowing:
Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches-ConcordPastor
By Paul Vitello for the New York Times
The sudden crush of worshipers packing the small evangelical Shelter Rock Church in Manhasset, N.Y. — a Long Island hamlet of yacht clubs and hedge fund managers — forced the pastor to set up an overflow room with closed-circuit TV and 100 folding chairs, which have been filled for six Sundays straight.
In Seattle, the Mars Hill Church, one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the country, grew to 7,000 members this fall, up 1,000 in a year. At the Life Christian Church in West Orange, N.J., prayer requests have doubled — almost all of them aimed at getting or keeping jobs.
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.
A recent spot check of some large Roman Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches around the nation indicated attendance increases there, too. But they were nowhere near as striking as those reported by congregations describing themselves as evangelical, a term generally applied to churches that stress the literal authority of Scripture and the importance of personal conversion, or being “born again.”
A study last year may lend some credence to the legend. In “Praying for Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States,” David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, looked at long-established trend lines showing the growth of evangelical congregations and the decline of mainline churches and found a more telling detail: During each recession cycle between 1968 and 2004, the rate of growth in evangelical churches jumped by 50 percent. By comparison, mainline Protestant churches continued their decline during recessions, though a bit more slowly.
(For the complete article, see the NYT online)