New Birth reduces jobs and salaries

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/March 2, 2011

The economy has forced New Birth Missionary Baptist Church to lay off two full-time employees and reduce salaries by 10 percent, according to a church statement.

Art Franklin, spokesman for the Lithonia megachurch, said it also adopted a "pilot program" adjusting the work week from five to four days.

"Like numerous other churches and charitable organizations across Georgia and the rest of the country, New Birth and its faith community have been impacted by the nationwide downturn in the economy," according to a statement.

Franklin said the church "responded with fiscal prudence and common sense" to the changes in the economy.

It was unclear whether the compensation of the pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, was affected by the changes or how many people are employed at New Birth. The statement said Long's compensation is determined by an independent board, "in conjunction with advice and counsel of New Birth's CPAs and tax advisers, all in accordance with IRS regulations."

The Fox 5 I-Team first reported the cuts Wednesday. Fox 5 said it obtained internal records that showed the church collected nearly $20 million last year, with more than $1 million designated for Long as a love offering. The love offerings are added to the church's general operating fund, the church said. It did not confirm or deny the amounts.

Nationally, many churches are reporting a decline in giving as a result of the economy.

In recent weeks, church members and New Birth watchers say attendance has declined. Some placed the blame on the recent legal scandal involving Long. The popular Long, who is married with children, has been sued by four men who accuse him of coercing them into sexual relations.

New Birth said it is experiencing "a shift in the worship pattern," but said it's because there has been a "marked increase" in the number of people watching services online.

The church won't have its popular Easter service at the Georgia Dome for the third consecutive year. The service typically drew tens of thousands of worshippers.

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