The weak economy has meant strong growth for the nation's only religious employment agency, a jobs network whose main requirement is that applicants be Christian.

Intercristo, a Seattle-based firm that matches applicants with computer listings of jobs, advertises free on radio stations across the country. It depends on public service announcements to give its pitch and to relay a WATS line number jobless people can call for information.

Those wanting any of the 27,000 openings filed in the Intercristo computers must prove they are Christian by listing their church and "agreeing with our doctrinal statement," explains Phil Christianson, agency services director for the jobs network. He said the restriction discourages only a few of the 4,500 to 6,000 people who call each month to inquire about the service.

Although the radio spots stress that the jobs--from accountants to carpenters to dentists--are primarily with Christian, nonprofit groups, Intercristo is receiving an increasing number of calls from laid-off workers looking for industrial jobs.

"We're not there to help the industrial unemployed," said Dick Staub, a former San Francisco corporate head hunter who directs the network. "We don't want to take unfair advantage of people who are hurting right now."

The 70,000 people who have called Intercristo this year represent an increase of 20,000 over last year, Staub said. About 10,000 of those inquiring this year paid the $31.50 fee for six months of job listings and about one in 12 will find work, Staub said.

A questionnaire sent to interested applicants asks "Is Jesus your Lord and Savior?" said Christianson. "If they say 'yes,' we process their application. If no, we send a booklet by the Campus Crusade. If they don't agree with the booklet, then we politely refund their money."

Applicants must be Christian because so many of the employers served by Intercristo are involved in church-related activities where similar religious philosophies are important, said Christianson. He noted that 95 percent of Intercristo's job listings have some religious connection, ranging from the Christian Service Corps in Silver Spring, where individuals are recruited for missionary work, to salesmen to market computer software to churches.

For employers such as the publishers of the religious magazines "Christianity Today" and "Eternity Today," Christianson said, "Obviously we're looking for some Christian people to be editors and writers."

He added, "We don't put ourselves in a position to screen individuals. The organizations themselves do that."

Christian, nonprofit employers can list job openings for free with the service. Commercial employers--and Staub says they accounted for $10,000 of the network's $400,000 budget last year--can list available jobs for $48 every six months. If an applicant is hired by a commercial employer, Intercristo also receives a placement fee, of 3 to 5 percent of the salary, from the employer.

A 1979 ruling by the Internal Revenue Service found that Intercristo did not jeopardize its tax-exempt status by accepting a small amount of commercial accounts, Staub said.

"We're most successful with the people who are searching for meaning in their lives," Staub said. "The baby boom generation especially, who are very idealistic. They want to do more than make a living."

Although the service was founded 14 years ago, only in the last three years has the network served more than a few thousand people each year, company records show. The service is part of CRISTA ministries, a Christian conglomerate in Seattle employing 700 people that includes a nursing home, school, radio stations, two camps and a relief organization.