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The church: surviving the recession

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 6/5/2013, 5 p.m.

When it comes to crises, the African American community, like other communities, can usually count on assistance from the Red Cross, local government agencies and the church. But with the Great Recession forcing some churches to shutter their doors, is that lifeline in jeopardy?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of participants in the food stamp program, or as it's now called in California, the CalFresh program, has grown exponentially, from 1,831,000 in the year 2000; to 1,992,000 in 2005; and 3,239,000 participants in 2010.

Additionally, the median income for Black families was $33,676 in year 2000; growing to $40,143 in 2007; but then falling to $38,409 in 2009 and dropping further later.

The U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) says that the recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. But according to Pastor Walter L. Smith III of Pure In Heart International Ministries Inc., poor and economically disadvantaged areas suffered before the recession's height in 2008, and will suffer the impacts years after.

"The state of the economy has an even worse impact on the church, which is constantly juggling growing needs and limited resources," Smith said.

Smith is based in Hollywood and serves as a church and ministry consultant throughout the nation, consulting with Bishop T. D. Jakes, Clarence McClendon, Bishop Carlos l. Malone Sr. and others, tackling topics such as leadership development, community and economic issues pertaining to church business and ministry programs.

"Church leaders have to approach issues on four fronts," Smith said. "They have to look at the recession politically--it diminishes the voice of the poor in the ears of local politicians. In a recession politicians tend to follow the money to find support for their issues and causes. This has a tremendous impact on the Black church.

"Socially, the church has a great burden of responsibility during tough times," Smith added. "We have to reach out more. "Economically, 99 percent of the church budget depends on the congregation's freewill giving," Smith said. "The disproportionate Black unemployment rate is an increased economic burden to the church."

"Spiritually, though, churches are supposed to be operating in God's economy," Smith added, explaining the faith that God will supply all need. "During tough times, at any church in general, we should focus on the principles of stewardship management and God's economy."

Smith believes that with stewardship and faith, the Black church will grow. But it's not so much the numbers in the buildings, he insists, but the numbers of the faithful. The maintenance costs of mega-churches are burdensome.

"Every church has the same mandate, Matthew 28, the Great Commission ['Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit']," Smith said. "And the great commandment, 'love one another'."

Smith says that the church has to become a missionary force of reconciliation by leaving the four walls of the church, building relationships with other congregations and joining together across denominations.