Many Churches Doing Well Despite Down Economy

Famous for his ripped image on billboards throughout Sin City, a male review singer quit his job after being "dramatically saved" and now sings at the International Church of Las Vegas. In this desert fleshpot, hundreds of laid-off casino and construction workers seeking spiritual solace in tough times have joined the church too. And throughout cyberspace, 4,600 people log onto each week to hear pastor Paul Goulet's sermons.

Since the global economic crisis began--hitting this tourist-dependent gambling mecca especially hard--weekly attendance at the church has exploded from 4,500 to 6,000, Goulet says. That's a 33 percent increase.

"There is definitely an awakening occurring," he adds. "And it's not just reserved for Las Vegas and other cities in the United States. It's really worldwide now."

Contrary to Newsweek's claim about the decline and fall of Christian America, evangelical churches around the globe are thriving. Pastors at charismatic, Pentecostal and other evangelical churches say that as people are suffering the effects of the financial downturn, houses of worship are experiencing dramatic rises in attendance. Although many evangelical churches have experienced steady growth in the last decade, pastors say they haven't seen this kind of upsurge since hippies disenchanted with the 1960s and 1970s counterculture discovered the original revolutionary--Jesus Christ.

"Back in the Jesus Movement, there was a tremendous spiritual awakening that occurred across America," says J. Don George, 72-year-old pastor of the Assemblies of God-affiliated Calvary Church in Irving, Texas, where average weekly attendance has increased 32 percent since the recession began. "What I'm seeing now is very similar to that--the enthusiasm, the attitude of, 'I can't wait until next Sunday to see what God is going to do. I want to get back in church with my family. I want more of God in my life.' Indeed, there appears to be a spiritual awakening occurring."

And unlike the short-lived increase in church attendance after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, pastors say this "spiritual tidal wave" is ongoing.

"I think this is the most exciting opportunity for the Christian church in America," says the Rev. A.R. Bernard, senior pastor of the nondenominational, charismatic Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. "People are hungry. People are fearful. People want answers. They want security. They want comfort. And what better entity than the church to provide that?"

Many churches are using overflow areas, hosting presentations to help people with their finances and offering sermons on the economy, current events and Bible prophecy. With world leaders calling for a global currency and economic system, Bernard says he is seeing a resurgence of interest in biblical prophecies regarding the second coming.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 79 percent of American Christians believe in the second coming and 34 percent believe the world situation will worsen before Jesus' return.

Some pastors are telling their congregations that current events--calls for a global government, the growing alliance between Iran and Russia, Iran's threats to ahhihilate Israel and rising anti-Semitism--are "warning signs" that Jesus could come much sooner than people think. "I've said since the start of the year that I believe we're living in the last days and the end times," says Jim Tolle, senior pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. "It's on a lot of people's minds."

Glenn Kirby, pastor of West Valley Christian Church in West Hills, Calif., where the congregation has swelled 27 percent since the recession began, says he's never seen a greater opportunity to reach people in his 42 years of ministry.

"The reason people are turning to God is because it feels like the end of the world," Kirby says. "We have a global economy forming and other major changes the Bible talks about. These things jog our memory about what the Bible says will happen and make us think we better get ready just in case this is a preview of the end of the world."

The recent upswing in attendance at evangelical churches comes on the heels of a 2008 survey by Trinity College, which found that although mainline churches experienced steep declines from 1990 to 2008, nondenominational, charismatic and Pentecostal churches grew steadily, especially after 2001. The American Religious Identification Survey found that in that time, attendance at mainline churches dropped from 32.8 million to 29.4 million. Meanwhile, attendance at nondenominational Christian churches grew from 26 million to 32.4 million, and attendance at Pentecostal and charismatic churches increased from 5.6 million to 7.9 million.

"Churches teaching the Bible are exploding," says Jack Hibbs, pastor at Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Southern California. "Some of our fellow Calvary Chapels have seen their attendance double from just six to eight months ago."

In another study, "Praying for Recession," David Beckworth, an assistant professor of economics at Texas State University, found that the rate of growth in evangelical churches had surged 50 percent in each recession between 1968 and 2004.

"This is going to be the glory days for evangelical churches," Beckworth says. "This recession could last well into [2013] or later, and this is going to be a boon time for evangeical churches."

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SOURCE: Charisma News
Troy Anderson is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
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