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The church: surviving the recession

It has taken a beating financially in the African American community, but a strong legacy remains

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 6/6/2013, 6 a.m.
When it comes to crises, the African American community, like other communities, can usually count on assistance from the Red ...

“In your physical body, if a cell isolates itself, it becomes cancerous,” Smith said.

“The greatest revival we will see will be from things that happen in communities where churches are. We have to get out of the buildings to the people, not get more people in the buildings.”

Some churches have reached out to provide schools, youth centers, mixed housing complexes, community development centers, credit unions and social enterprise organizations. These are important to the Black community, Smith says, because it suffers so much from not circulating its own money.

When the community improves, witnessing the love of Christianity firsthand in their neighborhood, the church has impact.

One such church is Crenshaw Christian Center, which maintains a K-12 school and has offered a number of programs to the community, including at one time a food program.

“Crenshaw Christian Center has realized a decrease in revenue (tithes and offerings) over the past five years,” says Angela M. Evans, CEO. “We believe that it is due in large part to the economy. Upon surveying our members we learned that many are out of work and, therefore, have little or nothing to give. However, praise God, all is well and every need is still met.”

During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina many African American church leaders publicly criticized government agencies and the Red Cross for not responding fast enough to the needs of those displaced by Katrina and the bureaucratic red tape that slowed reaction time while many were dying of neglect. After Katrina, examples of grassroots efforts of housing, collection of clothing and other necessities was instantaneous from Black churches across the nation, according to an Aug. 10, 2010, statement by NBC news.

“Part of why there are dwindling numbers new of converts is because there are so many different approaches for doing church,” Smith said. “And there’s a hostility towards the Christian faith community. People don’t want to be profiled saying you’re a Christian. The world is growing darker.”

A 2011 study by the well-known Barna Group, a research organization focusing on the intersection of faith and culture, indicates that church attendance began flagging long before the recession. For example, weekly church attendance by Whites declined 9 percent from 1991 to 2011, dropping from 48 percent to 39 percent. Among Hispanics the decline was more pronounced, falling 21 percent, from 54 percent to 33 percent.

The most stable group of the three racial/ethnic segments has been the Blacks,” said part 4 of the report, called “State of the Church Series, 2011.” While the report did not give a percentage drop among Blacks, it did say that “in 1991, 38 percent of Black adults volunteered at a church during the course of a typical week. That figure had fallen to 30 percent by 2011.”

USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture states that in 2000, 40 percent of Los Angeles County’s population was Roman Catholic, with the second largest group being the Jewish religion with 5.9 percent; followed by the Southern Baptist Convention with 1.2 percent followers; and the Mormon and Muslim religions with one percent each. However, numbers fell in most of the religion groups by the 2010 count, including Catholics, whose numbers have dropped to 36 percent of the County’s population and the Baptist Convention, which dropped to 1.02 percent.