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Real Estate Group: Dramatic Rise in Church Foreclosures Nationwide

Last spring Calvary Baptist Church in Paterson, N.J., faced foreclosure after it was unable to pay its $30,000 per month mortgage.

The strain of possible financial ruin and even shutting the church after 125 years, tested the faith of its congregants and the senior minister, Rev. Dr. Albert Rowe.

"[The bank] filed the papers," Rowe said. "There was a date set for us to have a hearing but I did not think that we would lose the church ... I always had faith that, you want to call it a miracle, or something would happen. I always believed that."

Calvary isn't alone in its financial predicament.

According to real estate watchdog CoStar Group, there's been a dramatic rise in church foreclosures: 200 since 2008, up from just  hand full a couple of years before. 

According to CoStar's senior real-estate strategist: "It runs the gamut as far as sizes and denominations. And the economy seems to have hit all churches equally."

But not everyone is seeing gloom and doom.

"When you do the math it sounds like we had a tsunami of church foreclosures," said Simeon May, CEO of the National Association of Church Business Administration. "But when you think about the fact that there are over 300 thousand churches in the country and 200 of them filed for foreclosure, that's very miniscule number."

May points to the success of megachurches like First Baptist Dallas, which just imploded part of a city block back in October 2010, to make room for a $115 million building project.

Also, on the whole, church donations were down just three percent in 2010, May said.

But May also admits there is great disparity among the haves and have not's among houses of worship. Even if a church is not threatened by foreclosure or bankruptcy, some may still struggle financially.

"About half of the churches that we've talked to have reported some staff layoffs which is just really unheard of in the church world," May said. "And even a larger percentage have frozen or reduced staff benefits."

The key factor for a church's financial health is the unemployment rate. Many people support the church in proportion to their income. Reduced income equals reduced giving. No income means no charitable giving.

"If corporations resume hiring and increase the rate of hiring, then the churches will have parishioners who have more money to tithe which will help them pay their mortgages, so really all goes back to the economy," said Chris Macke, Sr., a real estate strategist for CoStar Group.

Pastor Rowe's saving grace was his entire pension. He and several other church members used their personal funds to prevent the church's financial collapse. Its money he's confident will be repaid once the economy improves.

"I just took it out and I really didn't think it was a big deal," Rowe said. "I haven't gotten any of my money back yet, but I'm sure I will get it back."

And that, he says, is ultimately in the hands of a higher power.

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