According to data obtained from real estate tracker CoStar Group, lenders have been foreclosing on churches in record numbers over the last two years, as the weak economy has caused donations to shrink, making it difficult for religious groups to keep up with mortgage payments. In 2011 alone, 138 churches were seized by lenders and sold at auction, compared to just 24 in 2008 and even less than that in the entire decade leading up to the recession.This wave of foreclosures has impacted a wide array of communities, with small and medium sized churches bearing the brunt of the trend. The majority of churches foreclosed upon have been purchased at auction by other religious groups, either to expand their congregation or to move from an existing building that they had been renting. Not surprisingly, the foreclosure epidemic has impacted states like California, Florida and Michigan the worst, as well as other states that were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.Unlike most US home loans, which are repaid over a 30-year period, church loans are generally commercial loans with very low payments that mature in five years, when the balance of the loan becomes due in full. Thousands of churches across the country have been in default for several years, but banks have been reluctant to foreclose on the loans because of the damage their images have already suffered since the financial collapse.During the housing boom, when Americans were taking advantage of easily accessible credit to buy homes, churches also looked to take advantage by purchasing buildings to get out from under rent payments or move into newer or bigger facilities. When the recession struck, church donations declined drastically as millions of Americans lost their jobs and struggled to support their families, leaving little or nothing to tithe to their churches.