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Recession brings rebirth to churches

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From the NYTimes.com

 

 

 

 

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.

“It’s a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us,” said the Rev. A. R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York’s largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.”

Nationwide, congregations large and small are presenting programs of practical advice for people in fiscal straits – from a homegrown series on “Financial Peace” at a Midtown Manhattan church called the Journey, to the “Good Sense” program developed at the 20,000-member Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and now offered at churches all over the country.

Many ministers have for the moment jettisoned standard sermons on marriage and the Beatitudes to preach instead about the theological meaning of the downturn.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who moved much of their door-to-door evangelizing to the night shift 10 years ago because so few people were home during the day, returned to daylight witnessing this year. “People are out of work, and they are answering the door,” said a spokesman, J. R. Brown.

Mr. Bernard plans to start 100 prayer groups next year, using a model conceived by the megachurch pastor Rick Warren, to “foster spiritual dialogue in these times” in small gatherings around the city.

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