Churches Make Tough Decisions in Bad Economy

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WASHINGTON -- Each week, hundreds walk through the doors of Metropolitan Baptist Church to worship in the heart of the nation's capital.

It's been a witness to history. Freed slaves formed the congregation during the Civil War almost 150 years ago. Since then, the church survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, and 28 presidents.

Now, this body of believers faces its own challenge: moving.

"We did not seek this land. It was literally offered to us and that is why we call it God's land in largo," said Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Baptist.

A growing congregation led to the planned move into Maryland. The project, once considered a blessing, has become an urgent prayer burden.

Construction crews completed more than 50 percent of the new building when the economy imploded and credit dried up.

"The problem with all of that of course is that just at the time we needed to do some re-financing work, that was the moment the national economy fell through the bottom." Hicks said.

Then came rising unemployment. With the jobless rate in Washington D.C. over 10 percent, the recession has hit the church and its members hard.

Losing a paycheck means less money in the offering plate. That eventually forced Metropolitan to move from its original location and temporarily meet at a local charter school.

"The reality is there's a choice that has to be made," Hicks said. "Very often, the choice is extremely stark: 'Shall I place food on the table for my children? Or shall I place money in the plate as I've been instructed?' That's not an easy choice to make," Hicks added.

With a rough road still ahead, Pastor Hicks is encouraging his congregation to keep the faith.

"What makes us different is that we do not shrink in the face of recession; we do not walk in fear in the face of recession, but we still rely on the word of God to be that lamp, to be that light, to give to us that confident assurance that everything we need will be provided," Hicks said.

And Metropolitan is not alone.

According to Christianity Today, 40 percent of churches have seen at least a two percent drop in weekly giving since last year. One-third estimates giving is the same. And nine percent have actually seen an increase.

One of those churches is called The Living Room in Martinsburg, W.V.

The pastors took us to land where they're raising money for a 75,000 square foot performing arts and sports arena.

"We've captured a vision. We're not asking people to need, we're just asking them to be part of something that is bigger than themselves and we're seeing it's working," said Kevin Green, pastor of The Living Room. "And God's returning blessing to them," he added.

Metropolitan is also seeing God's blessing through partnerships with other churches. Those congregations have raised thousands of dollars despite their own hardships to help the historic church move to its future home.

This principle of "being your brother's keeper" is championed by many leaders including Los Angeles Bishop Noel Jones. His megachurch, City of Refuge, has become just that -- a refuge for struggling churches.

"Some have in excess, some have too little. We need to partner, but again, we need to get over our egos and all of the things that go with our territories," Jones said. "It's about ministering to people. We need to partner and we can get the job done."

Pastor Hicks says the recession energizes him to preach about God's faithfulness. And for the members of Metropolitan Baptist Church, the economic downturn is just another opportunity for God to show his greatness.

"So I'm willing to wait and to see what God's going to do," Hicks said. I'm confident that through all of this, God is getting ready to do something so spectacular and so phenomenal that we can hardly understand it. We won't believe it."

*Originally aired July 20, 2009.

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