Tough economy impacts church coffers

Concord Baptist Pastor Daryle Nichols says a silent prayer of thanks every time a member drops another $20 bill into the offering plate. He knows each member gives what he or she can, but most have cut back donations considerably.

“I try to be careful when asking for contributions. I tell them, ‘We know the economy is low, and I know a lot of you have lost your jobs, but the church still needs your support. We just ask that you do what you can,’” Nichols said.

The church family at Concord Baptist in Calera has recently seen 10-15 of its members lose their jobs. Nichols said he admires those members’ faith.

“The men that are committed to their faith take it with a grain of salt knowing that God’s going to take care of them,” he said. “If it were me, I’m not sure I could even have that attitude.”

Concord now forgoes purchasing new music or anything else that isn’t a necessity. Dr. Hugh Richardson, director of missions for the Shelby Baptist Association, said times are tough on many churches.

“Some of the churches’ finances are tight, and as a result, the association has seen less contributions as well,” Richardson said. “Most are just trying to pay close attention to their expenditures.”

Concord does not plan to scale back on mission work although many people are. Sam Neugent began planning mission trips for churches more than two decades ago.

He said this year he’s seen a significant drop in mission workers. He signed up dozens of volunteers for a medical mission to Ecuador last May. This year’s trip remains contingent on finding enough volunteers.

“Last year, we took 63 but have had trouble getting 30 this year,” Neugent said. “About half of those have to be medical volunteers, and this year we can’t even find an MD to make the trip –– people are too scared to go.”

People aren’t too scared to go because of safety, Neugent said. They are too scared instead to lose money by missing work. Doctors especially seem weary of leaving their practice closed for two weeks when they have already seen a decrease in case loads, Neugent said.

This fear hurts the work Neugent is trying to do.

“I don’t have a doctor and that really puts a strain on us,” he said. “I can’t keep my promise of bringing a medical team to this village in Ecuador unless I get a doctor. I could have five million pills, but without a doctor I can’t dispense even one of them.”

Even when the money shrinks, the need doesn’t.

In fact, Richardson said while church congregations watch every cent, the local need continues to expand dramatically.

The Shelby Baptist Association saw a 73 percent increase in requests for assistance at their ministry center last year. In 2007, the center served about 3,600 people. In 2008, it saw about 6,600. The association also provided food to 53 percent more people in 2008 than 2007.

Rev. Michael Edmondson of Helena United Methodist said he’s seen his members reach deeper to help others.

“We have gotten a lot more calls for people needing help with power bills, needing help with heating bills,” Edmondson said. “Instead of doing a yearly benevolence intake, we now do that monthly.”

Nichols said his church does what it can as well.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in people coming in off the streets,” he said. “One gentleman came in today and all he needed was food and toilet paper. We might not be able to do a lot, but we can help him with that.”