The nation’s lingering recession multiplies long-term financial challenges for evangelical ministries and denominations.

Recession was obviously on the minds of ministry executives gathered for a Christian Management Institute held in California in February. When World Vision International vice-president James Canning asked his audience whether their organizations were experiencing turbulent times, about half of the 100-plus raised their hands. “If you are not in a difficult time now,” Canning told the middle-managers, “you will probably experience one in the next few years.”

Ministry managers hesitate to blame only the recession for their current troubles. Indeed, the slow economy has hurt some evangelical organizations and denominations, while others appear unaffected. But the weak economy has intensified other factors that are crucial to their financial health, such as increased competition, changing attitudes among donors, and the lingering effects of televangelism scandals. Managers at the institute, sponsored by the Christian Management Association and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, said they had come seeking specific, practical advice in three critical areas: streamlining internal operations, attracting and keeping donors, and maintaining program commitments.

Whatever the impact of the recession, most groups agree that a decade or more of galloping expansion is over. “We haven’t crashed and burned,” says one ministry spokesman, “but we’ve had to slow down the train.”

Slow Growth

Adjusting to a new speed has not come without cost to many ministries. For example, Prison Fellowship (PF) ended 1990 with a 3 percent increase in funds. But the ministry had counted on a 20 percent increase based on gains ...

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