Networking in the Pews

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With corporate giants toppling and unemployment high, more job hunters are turning to an old-fashioned source of counsel — the church. For years, places of worship have offered organized networking and workshops on such topics as resume writing and interview strategies. But now pastors promising job assistance are being swamped with seekers.

At the height of the economic boom, St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston nearly dropped its networking sessions for lack of interest. But in the past nine months, the group has ballooned from 10 participants to more than 50. At St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., attendance at career sessions has more than doubled in the past year. "If I were a country preacher, I'd be out riding around on the combine, talking about the price of corn," says pastor Rod Anderson. "But I have a congregation full of middle-management and technology professionals, and they are experiencing the pain of downsizing." Roughly a quarter of all churches offer job programs — mostly small, informal groups that meet once or twice a month and limit their religious content to an opening or concluding prayer. Brian Ray of the nonprofit Crossroads Career Network in Atlanta has helped 27 churches launch such programs, and plans to expand to 45 by the end of the year. Says Ray: "There's an opportunity to marry your personal faith and your work."