National woes hit Fresno church

FRESNO, Calif.

A drop in donations at First Church of God is forcing leaders to sell off some prized property. The church never fell behind in payments to the bank. However, after four years of building equity their investment is lost.

First Church of God in Northeast Fresno just celebrated 111 years in the community.

In 2006 the church wanted to continue spreading the good word and purchased this five-bedroom home located on more than one-acre of land next door.

"At that time we felt like that this is what we were supposed to do, is to step in and make this purchase," said Ken Wilson who became the head pastor over two and a half years ago.

Wilson inherited this house and land and fifty year old church that needed serious remodeling inside and out. What he did not expect to inherit was a decline in congregants.

"When we came there was about a fourth of the church left," Wilson said.

At its prime the church operated on money offered during general giving. This money supports not only the church but its school which educates 200 children attending Kindergarten through Eight grade. That's where the house comes in.

The church planned to convert it into an extra classroom but the money to develop it was not available. And at $4,000 dollars a month to the bank it became a money pit threatening to shut down services. "So the bank has agreed to take a short sale on the property," said the Pastor.

Donations at U.S. churches were down 40% in 2009 according to the non-profit group Christianity Today International.

Churchgoers here are unaware of the challenges facing their church, they talk about it during service and pray.

"It's tough but God's gonna take care of us and we're getting through this," Dot Briggs said.

Congregant Russell DiGirolamo added: "That should be your number one priority, should be to church. No matter how bad you're hurting you should always donate."

The house and property is on sale for $275,000. Future plans to expand are on hold right now until the economy shows signs of growth.

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