Adjusting to Economic Calamity

Adjusting to Economic Calamity

By Ken Walker-

financialThe economic downturn has had a serious impact on my writing, which is largely related to the Christian world. So, I’m not immune to the financial pressures that have affected churches, ministries and religious publications the past five years.

Still, until working recently on an assignment for an upcoming issue of Christianity Today, I wasn’t aware of how bad it has been.

Take, for instance, more than 500 faith-based institutions filing for chapter 11 bankruptcies from 2006-11. The University of Illinois law professor who conducted the study says the rate has remained about the same for 2012 and ’13.

Good News Amid Bad

There is good news amid this scenario, though. Such as the chief financial officer for a major national ministry who says contributions have increased at a six percent rate annually the past five years.

In addition, a trio of Christian credit unions that I talked to are now seeing lower foreclosure rates and improving asset values.

“We see the marketplace stabilizing,” says John Walling, president of the Christian Community Credit Union. “We don’t see a lot of churches that owe us money that will go into foreclosure.”

Mendell Thompson, president of America’s Christian Credit Union, believes the church has come through the worst, even though the economy is still not functioning as strongly as he would like—and there are certain parts of the nation where unemployment remains high.

“But basically, on church requests for assistance and reductions of interest rates—those requests have dropped way down,” Thompson says.

Avoiding Financial Ruin

money-manOne of the most interesting conversations I had with David Briggs, director of the stewardship ministry at Central Christian Church in the Phoenix area.

The multi-site congregation acquired one of its campuses two years ago at the invitation of the other church. Briggs recently heard about another church in the metro area of 20,000 that acquired a church of 2,000 to help the smaller church avoid financial ruin.

While it is a considerable challenge for a church facing financial ruin to see that as a blessing, the stewardship director says the implications of the economy at the “micro” level are fascinating.

A Different Scenario

In working with numerous individuals and families in recent years, Briggs has found a much different picture than the distress many churches have endured.

Many of those he counsels got caught up in the bigger-house syndrome because of the idea that real estate values would continue to appreciate. However, the 40 percent plunge in housing prices in the metro Phoenix area put that idea to rest.

“A lot of regular people lost their house either to foreclosure or a short sale,” says Briggs, a former corporate finance manager. “Having gone through the embarrassment of having to move out of their house has had a much more positive effect on families.

“This was a serious wake-up call to get their financial house in order. Instead of going into depression, many emerged from this to say, ‘I’m not going to let this happen again.’”

Positive Results

man4Briggs pronounced himself “surprised” at how much good came out of this negative experience, particularly those people who vowed to get their finances in order so they would never go through this again.

Having lived through a serious downturn myself since 2008, I can vouch for the truth of what Briggs says. Although I wish that many print markets wouldn’t have dwindled or disappeared, and that books hadn’t become an expendable commodity for many people, I can say that my faith in God’s ability to provide for our needs remains intact.

The recession has helped deplete our savings and made for some nervous times. Yet, recently I read a column by a woman whose husband deserted her family. After considerable struggles, she had managed to build a savings account, only to see a series of calamities drain her savings. .

When she complained, the Lord asked, “Are you trusting in Me or your savings?”

That is a good question for all of us to remember.


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