The Great Recession Leads to Organized Religion Woes October 1, 2009

The Great Recession Leads to Organized Religion Woes

The economic downturn affects most of us, but churches are in a particularly bad position. They’re reliant on tithes/donations, private school tuition fees, and a stable worshiper base. All of those areas are getting hit hard.

Rachel Zoll explains:

Organized religion was already in trouble before the fall of 2008. Denominations were stagnating or shrinking, and congregations across faith groups were fretting about their finances.

The Great Recession made things worse.

It’s further drained the financial resources of many congregations, seminaries and religious day schools. Some congregations have disappeared and schools have been closed. In areas hit hardest by the recession, worshippers have moved away to find jobs, leaving those who remain to minister to communities struggling with rising home foreclosures, unemployment and uncertainty.

If the churches want to survive in this climate, they’ll have to adapt and change their old ways.


It doesn’t help matters that Americans are trending away from organized religion. Bad for them, anyway. Good for the rest of us.

How can non-theists capitalize on this?

One way is to provide former-churchgoers with a community for them to join — one that offers friendship, a safe place for discussion, and honesty about the world around us.

For so many people, the church is just a means to an end. They go there because they can’t find that tight-knit community anywhere else, and if religion comes along for the ride, so be it.

This is a tremendous opportunity for us.

(Thanks to Deanna for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Korinthian

    That suggestion sounds too much like a “prey on the weak” tactic so often employed by the church.

  • Shane

    I don’t really think “atheist” communities will ultimately be very successful long term. It is better to create non-theistic communities based on some kind of actual shared activity or value. Anything from knitting, recreational sports, or a queer issues support group. I would rather spend time doing something I care about than wasting time focusing on religion.

    I find I rarely have much in common with “atheists” (or “a-fairyist” or “non-football fans”) in general. Usually not much more than a general interest in science and separation of church/state. Not really enough to sustain a viable community, especially if (once) non-theism becomes more mainstream.

  • valdemar

    Good point – there’s no reason why two randomly selected atheists would agree about politics, sport or their favourite movie. They’d agree that less religion in society is a good thing, and isn’t it terrible about the Taliban etc. But creating a kind of ‘anti-church’ seems a non-starter, as the sense of belonging that religion offers people really does spring from a high degree conformity that we can’t offer. Or indeed fake.

  • gharkness

    Looks like you guys have never heard of North Texas Church of Freethought.

    We have a great sense of community – plenty of things to agree and disagree about, and we’re 15 years old and growing. I’d say that’s about 14 years longer than most people thought we’d make it.

  • On the other hand, two randomly selected church-going Christians might also not agree on politics, sports, or their favorite movie… But if their main motivation for going to church is to give back to the community, then perhaps a secular organization that gives back to the community could also work.

    We would probably have to pick out some silly hats and come up some initiation ceremonies 😉

  • Nathan

    Well in these times, whatever atheists do to create community, it has to be free.

    Whether it be sports, knitting, etc. as shane said.

    I don’t think that the sense of belonging comes from conformity, I think it comes from similarities. I am similar in my love for Serbian culture, music, language, etc., therefore I am part of the Serbian community (I go to some events, play in basketball tournaments, etc.) But, I don’t ascribe to the orthodox religion, or attend church. It is the non-church activities that keep me in the community.

    If atheists could create some regularly scheduled events, the only reason I would see to hinder would be finding enough atheists to have an “atheist basketball league” or “atheist knitting group.”

    If I knew of an atheist weightlifting club or basketball club, etc. I would attend every week “religiously.”

  • jemand

    But how is the freedom from religion foundation doing? What about secular student coalition? We really can’t point to this as harming religious groups differentially unless we show that secular groups are affected less.

    Like Operation Rescue having troubles you posted awhile back– good, but how’s planned parenthood faring? Etc.

  • ursulamajor

    It would be nice if we could have the community factor. But my Secular Humanist group has an average age of 70, and they aren’t really interested in doing community work. I live in a small town so there are no other outlets for my godlessness. If there were, I’d volunteer for sure.

    I do have a community in the works. PZ Meyers mentioned World of Warcraft on his site and more than a few of us were revealed to be players. So I made an atheist guild. If you play, come join us.

    server: Kael’thas
    faction: Horde
    guild: The Friendly Pharyngula
    me/GM: Atheistgal
    my main: Thunderthyz
    officer: Blastula (the tentacled one himself)
    We have lots of beginner gear, so come make a toon. 5G for mentioning this ad.

  • I’ve been saying this kind of thing, Friendly. I think there is room to bring people into a community environment of nonbelievers but there needs to be away to address nontheists in general and then divide and conquer them into smaller groups that have more in common. In some ways, this is happening already.

    Where I’d like to focus, from my individual preferences, is on groups of non-believing people who trend self-reflective, fun, and humble because when the mantle of religion is thrown off, so is the mandate of an old moral code. The new atheists worthy of admiration are going to not only be godless, they will also be aware of the decisions they make so that they can navigate with evolving morals. The new atheists worth socializing with will be outgoing and social so they are seen and enjoyed. And also, even though I think godless is the way to be, it’s not my place to shut down metaphysical speculation. It’s my place to show one example of what an atheist can be. There’s that humble reference coming back. One reason I’m not a believer is due in part to the bad examples of outspoken believers. I noticed that long before science. Similarly, if we want disbelief to do well, we’ve got to engage our community positively and be a part of it, even when we’re not engaged in charity.

    Atheism doesn’t mean nice, social, thoughtful and humble, but it can’t hurt to have those attributes branded in, can it?

  • Johann

    I don’t really think “atheist” communities will ultimately be very successful long term. It is better to create non-theistic communities based on some kind of actual shared activity or value. Anything from knitting, recreational sports, or a queer issues support group. I would rather spend time doing something I care about than wasting time focusing on religion.


    I grew up in Russia, where my atheism was a non-issue, and so I didn’t even have the concept of atheist activism until coming to the States. It was simply a facet of my worldview, and astronomy, history and science fiction were all more important and more interesting to me than the notion of arguing about religious ideas.

    Arguing against a flat Earth is not a pressing issue today – and similarly, if religion becomes obsolete, so will opposition to religion. Which is all well and good, but if that’s the basis of your community, it will have nothing left to hold it together, so we need to take things in the right direction now. Even now, while we’re still one of the most despised minorities in this nation and activism is vital, we need to openly welcome and provide a place for the quiet throng who simply want to live their lives without religious interference. The ones who don’t call themselves atheists. The ones who don’t speak up.

    After all, our present problems and the future we loudmouthed and obnoxious activists are working for are not just ours but theirs as well. We can’t build it without them.

  • This is a tremendous opportunity for us.???
    Reaping the benefit of another’s misfortune is exactly what the evilgenitals do. It creates an “us against them mentality” and establishes a system where if I believe in thing one I am therefore superior to anyone who believes in thing two. There are a multitude of secular humanist communities already fighting for funds without minimizing and dehumanizing the believers. The result is that non-theists are the same as theists.

  • Stephen P

    I don’t agree with Korinthian’s criticism. The “prey on the weak” strategy has two parts:
    1) befriend people in bad times;
    2) brainwash and/or bully them so they don’t leave when times get better.
    As long as atheists eschew part 2, there is nothing wrong with part 1.

    However I do agree with Shane. I see atheist groups per se as a short-term phenomenon which will fade away when religion ceases to be a threat – that could still be a question of decades in some places, of course. In the longer term a more solid focus is needed, (usually, anyway) be it sport, natural history, providing meals to the elderly, photography, volunteer fire service, environmental protection or whatever.

  • Rostrum Camera

    Where’s god when you really need her? You have thought she’d have at least given back some of the tithes, even if only as a zero interest loan.

  • non atheist

    I don’t think you’ll find religious folks going to atheist get togethers, because lets face it, most atheists are sort of gross and depressing.

  • Surprisingly the uk economy shrank a further 0.4% between July and September (the last quarter that there are figures for), so the end of the downturn is a long way off yet – another 6 months at least i reckon, its the longest recession since records began 50 years ago and it wont be till years later the economy and property market recovers, it was’nt until the late 90’s that the property market recovered after the 89/90 recession.
    I think a lot of people turn to religion in times like this.

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