For most people, falling oil prices can be cause for celebration. It’s easy to visualize empty oil rigs and scores of unemployed workers, but the trickle-down effect is palpable: Neighbors put their houses up for sale and local shops shut down. Midland residents know this cycle too well – the boom and bust. Though it may be familiar, it’s hard to recall the last time a church was so hard-hit by the oil slump that it had to start making dramatic cuts. At Midland’s First Baptist Church, the collection plates have become so lean that they’re laying off ministers. The leaders of the church say they have to cut 1.3 million dollars from their budget.
Rye Druzin has been covering Midland’s First Baptist Church’s struggle against the oil economy downturn for the Midland Reporter Telegram.
It was a combination of multiple factors that resulted in the decision to layoff 13 employees at the church, Druzin says. One was a steady decline of the church’s membership since the late ‘90s, from over 4,000 to about 3,300 members on the roster. The drop may be a natural response to rising competition, particularly a new Baptist church named Stonegate. Another factor is that tithes – the annual donations to the church that make up 10 percent of its income – have also fallen. But, Druzin says, the last factor that’s specifically cited by the church is something that plagues nearly every oil town business: falling oil prices.
With a congregation the size of a small Texas town, there’s a lot of engagement in church decisions. However, they weren’t particularly happy about this one.
“They believed that they should have been consulted before the cuts were made, because there were 13 people who lost their jobs,” says Druzin. “Even though they are going to be paid severance packages, those jobs are basically gone immediately.”
The church council made the decisions because of the need to cut the budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting on October 1st. So far, Midland’s First Baptist Church is a single instance.
“When the price of oil drops, it affects everyone,” Druzin says.