A struggling construction sector that continues to bleed Charlotte’s economic recovery hasn’t slowed a mini building boom among area houses of worship, reports the Charlotte Observer.
Despite financial uncertainty from the job front to Wall Street, congregations have set aside millions of dollars for major expansions at Calvary Church and Christ Lutheran, both in south Charlotte. New or renovated facilities have already opened at Providence Baptist, Myers Park Presbyterian and Temple Beth El.
Church leaders say their projects had been planned for years. Work started in the recession, they say, to take advantage of low construction prices and to meet pressing needs of their congregations or the community. “There does come a point if the facilities are poor that people will start to think, ‘Wait a minute, we’ll be looking elsewhere,’ ” said the Rev. John Munro, pastor of Calvary, which will soon start work on a $10 million expansion. “But this is not for the glory of Calvary. This is something that allows us to make an impact on future generations.”
Adds Al Cadenhead, pastor of Providence Baptist Church on Randolph Road: “We spent several million dollars on a youth building that you can’t even see from the road. But we had to have it.”
The new construction comes at a time of mixed economic indicators for houses of worship. Nationwide, fewer people are attending services. Tithing to Protestant denominations, as a percentage of income, has fallen to its lowest level in more than 40 years, according to the annual “State of Church Giving” report by Empty Tomb Inc., an Illinois-based Christian research firm.
Across Charlotte, the “City of Churches,” some congregations are struggling to survive while others continue to expand in numbers, dollars and space. Myers Park Presbyterian’s new $8.1 million outreach center was part of a $30 million campaign goal reached by the congregation in 2008.
After first eliminating a longstanding debt, Calvary members put more than $4 million in the bank for their planned 51,000-square-foot expansion, mostly for children and teen programs.
“We’ve just run out of space,” says Munro. “It wasn’t that we said, ‘Yippee, we want another building.’ ”
In its report, Empty Tomb says churches are spending more of their donations on themselves, and less on traditional missions, outreach and other “benevolences.” Co-author Sylvia Ronsvalle says the 2009 figures support a 20-year-plus trend among churches to add amenities to keep or attract members. Churches, she says, have realigned themselves “along the lines of consumer acceptability” by building gyms, childcare centers and other amenities to build their congregations. Read More.