Tuesday, December 02, 2008

American Christianity Facing Shock Treatment

In my mind, Robert Parham's essay contending that "Financial Crisis Will Shape Long-Term Religious Ethos" considerably understates the challenges that American Christianity is about to face. Churches have not faced the economic challenges we are about to face and we are ill prepared to meet them.

Economists are warning that a protracted recession is just beginning and job losses are going to mount. The housing market, the credit market, and the financial markets have all experienced seismic shocks in the past year. More shocks are on the way. Our economic future is a mess. The balance of economic power is rapidly shifting from the west to the far east.

Every family in America is being effected and that includes church families. Will Willimon cites research on his blog that indicates serious conflict within the congregation is the number one predictor of congregational decline. Nothing creates serious conflict within families and churches like financial distress.

Willimon suggests that the keys to church growth in the future will be reaching out multi-racially, keeping people happy, and having more active males.

I tend to think that the economic strains we are about to face will alter the landscape of our churches. It's not the growth of churches that is important but the growth of God's kingdom. Big churches with their enormous economic footprints are a huge drain on the work of God's kingdom. They have too much real estate to maintain in a depression economy. Megachurch complexes and the mammoth debts that have been accumulated to build them may well make fine museums.

I pray that we see a revival of small churches that grow by multiplying and reproducing more small churches. The kind that are frugal with expenses on brick and mortar in order to devote the bulk of their resources to meeting the human needs of their communities. In my mind, the future of the church looks more like a mission outpost or a house church than a megachurch.


Fernando said...

Thanks for the post and link. I agree with the vision of small, frugal and responsive churches.

One thing that comes again is this issue of attracting more males. A strong argment against this is Callum Brown's book on the decline of the church in the UK. Brown argues that the numbers really started to drop off in the 60s when professional women stopped going to church.

I really believe that's a key figure to track - the church of the future will make professional and working women feel welcome and supported in their faith.

MDSF said...

I just finished reading Christine Wicker's most recent book. She argues that the shift away from megachurches is generational and claims small groups are the wave of the future.

That's an oversimplification, but she basically claims that megachurches are a Boomer phenomenon, and their business model won't continue to work when Boomers die and are replaced by their children, who aren't impressed by television and want more intimate settings.

I personally believe these two things (the current economic crisis and the decline of Baby Boomers as a social force) are closely related.

P M Prescott said...

How many of those losing their houses, jobs and futures are going to be able to connect the dots that their mega church leaders that pushed them to vote Republican because of abortion or gay marriage are the cause for their economic plight?

MDSF said...

I might gently suggest that the outgoing Bush Administration did not single-handedly kill the American domestic auto industry.