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.