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.

June
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
Read These Next
Also in this IssueHow Lewis Lit the Way to Better Apologetics
How Lewis Lit the Way to Better Apologetics Subscriber Access Only
Why the path to reasonable faith begins with story and imagination.
RecommendedAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
TrendingISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
ISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
(UPDATED) Egypt cancels Ramadan’s opening celebration as Copts resist revenge.
Editor's PickDo This in Remembrance
Do This in Remembrance
Participating in the “high holy day” of American civil religion is beneficial for Christians, so long as we do so thoughtfully.
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.