It’s been two years since the National Bureau of Economic Research declared that the U.S. had entered a recession.

It’s no secret that the economic downturn has affected us all—individuals, families, businesses, and communities—but the Alban Institute and the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving wanted to better understand how the recession has been affecting congregations and how they have responded to it, so they recently embarked on a joint project to survey congregations to find out. Their findings, which can be found on pages 5–7 of this issue, demonstrate that congregations have, like everyone else, suffered in the recession, but also that they have risen to the challenges it has presented and continued to reach out to one another and to their communities to offer help, solace, and encouragement.

As the recession has worn on, many congregations have had to make some tough choices, so we wanted to share in this issue some of the wisdom and advice of those who have struggled through the contentious discussions and made the hard choices, framed these choices in discerning ways, and assisted others in addressing these challenges.

Alban senior consultant Dan Hotchkiss contributed the In Focus article for this issue. In “Putting Money Where Your Mission Is” he helps us find the silver lining in having less—learning what really matters—and then offers clear and practical advice for keeping vision in the budget-making and budget-cutting processes.

John Wimberly puts a personal face on this process in his article, “What to Keep, What to Cut,” where he shares the not-always-pretty story of how his congregation tackled their own budgetary shortfall, ultimately allowing a conversation about what they valued most to shape many of their decisions.

In “Hard-Times Leadership,” Episcopal priest Fred Schmidt offers a larger frame for considering what it takes to lead well in times of difficulty. As he writes, “If we surrender to God in the midst of hard times—to God, not the times themselves—there is a great deal in the experience that can be clarifying.” Schmidt urges congregational leaders to see discernment—“the ability to see how and where God is at work in the world”—as their “abiding responsibility,” regardless of the circumstances they and their parishioners face.

And for those churches seeking alternative revenue in the form of grants, consultant Joy Skjegstad offers a look at ten ways congregations can improve their chances of winning the funding they seek.

In peace and hope,

Marlis McCollum