More than 90 metro Atlanta churches were posted for prospective foreclosure from 2006 to 2010, an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.
The report is based on a review by Equity Depot, a Kennesaw-based real estate research firm.
Rick Arzet, an associate broker with Prudential Georgia Realty, says the situation facing churches is the worst he's seen in 40 years.
Among the 113 churches now listed for sale in metro Atlanta, Arzet estimates 33 are foreclosures or churches in serious financial trouble.
In some cases, pastors built larger churches when the economy was strong, with the expectation that good times would continue indefinitely, said Chris Macke, a senior real estate strategist for CoStar Group, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate services firm that monitors the phenomenon.
When the economy crashed - or projected population growth didn't materialize as church officials thought it would - many churches were left with large loans and dwindling revenue.
In Newnan, Bible Baptist Church left its 51-acre campus when the economy soured.
The church had seen rapid growth, and took on $3.8 million in debt in 2006 to improve its sewer system, parking, playground and gym.
But several church members lost their jobs and offerings began to decline, said Pastor Doug Anderson. Church membership dwindled from 400 to around 100, and the church now holds services in a shopping center.
"We just got too much debt... We probably tried to do too much too fast," Anderson said.
To address the problem, a group of Atlanta pastors and representatives from financial institutions plan to meet at noon Thursday at Grace Community Christian Church in Kennesaw to discuss how to handle church foreclosures.