Guest / Limited Access /
Churches: The New Risky Bet
Steeple Chase: U.S. church construction peaked in 2002, according to research from McGraw-Hill Construction. And it started to decline long before the 2008 recession. The most dramatic declines were in 2010. While square footage was still down 13 percent in 2013, actual spending went up 1.1 percent.

Less than 30 minutes from Disney World, Celebration of Praise Church of God has 1,200 members and a 47-acre campus. The Clermont, Florida, church boasts an Olympic-size swimming pool, a spa, a gym, and the county's largest auditorium. It also has a $7 million "balloon" payment due on its mortgage. All the church lacks is the funds to pay it.

It looks like Celebration's story will have a happy ending of sorts—it's currently selling its property to the city for $6.3 million, and will be able to rent the property for Sunday and Wednesday meetings.

But things haven't been so good for nearby Lakeland's Without Walls International, once the fastest-growing church (and among the 10 largest churches) in the country. The Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU) foreclosed on the church in 2008 over a $13.9 million loan default. That case has been in the courts ever since, with claims, counterclaims, and the church founded by Randy and Paula White sitting dormant.

The 5-year-long dispute and the empty 9,600-seat sanctuary symbolize the state of church-building finances during that time period.

Hundreds of congregations have filed for bankruptcy or defaulted on loans. University of Illinois law professor Pamela Foohey, who tracks church bankruptcies, says more than 500 congregations filed Chapter 11 between 2006 and 2011—and the pace hasn't slowed since. About 90 congregations filed for bankruptcy in 2012, even as the overall rate of bankruptcy filings declined 13.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the church bond market, once a refuge for cautious investors, is now a black hole, says Rusty Leonard, CEO of Stewardship Partners, a Christian investment management firm.

Before the 2008 ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueJesus Feels Your Pain
Subscriber Access Only Jesus Feels Your Pain
Critics say American Christianity downplays Christ's suffering. Two Reformed scholars answer the charge.
RecommendedBearing Burdens After Obamacare: The Future of Christian Healthcare Sharing
Bearing Burdens After Obamacare: The Future of Christian Healthcare Sharing
The Affordable Care Act put Christian insurance alternatives on the map. What happens to them when it goes away?
TrendingWhy Tim Keller, Max Lucado, and Hundreds of Evangelical Leaders Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban
Why Tim Keller, Max Lucado, and Hundreds of Evangelical Leaders Oppose Trump’s Refugee Ban
Regardless of court fight’s final outcome, fewer persecuted Christians will make it to America under president’s plan.
Editor's PickChallenging the Narrative: How Race Complicates the Latest LifeWay Debate
Challenging the Narrative: How Race Complicates the Latest LifeWay Debate
Black Southern Baptists weigh in on the issues around removing Sho Baraka’s album.
Christianity Today
Churches: The New Risky Bet
hide thisNovember November

In the Magazine

November 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.