Last November, I posed the question, “If gas hits $4/gal, what will your church do?” We are beyond $4/gallon gas now, and the future looks different than we ever thought it would just a couple of years back. But, there are other crises which will affect churches in the next few years:
- The gap in moving from oil to other fuels. The buzz is already out there about electric cars. T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore have both challenged America with their visions of an alternative energy future. Talk about $12-$15/gallon gas is getting serious airtime, and no one is predicting a drop in oil prices. In the transition from oil to other fuels, transportation will change from private cars to public conveyance. The entire automobile culture that we have known in America will slowly and painfully be reformed to meet new energy challenges. How will congregants get to church in the future?
- Increasing electricity costs. Google “rising electricity costs” and you find articles like this one predicting that electricity costs will double in 5 years. Why? Increasing demand as we move away from oil. Electric cars will only add to the demand, straining an already over-burdened power grid that is in serious need of upgrading. Imagine that the electric bill for your church, and each family in your church, doubles in 5 years. How do you cope?
- Rising food costs. Accompanying rising gas prices — and increasing scarcity — and rising electricity costs are rising food prices. Riots have broken out in developing countries this year over the price of staples such as rice. According to Paul Roberts, author of The End of Food, the entire food industry is facing a crisis of quality, nutrition, and cost. Roberts might be easy to ignore as “Chicken Little” alarmist, but he’s also the author of the 2004 book The End of Oil which predicted the current oil crisis. We might want to pay attention to what he says about food.
- Scarcity of water. If you think it’s not possible for America to run out of water, talk to the residents of Atlanta where last year Lake Lanier dried up to record lows.
- Economic/financial institutional uncertainty. The federal government’s “bail outs” of investment banks, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, plus the falling dollar, the increasing national debt, the war in Iraq, low consumer confidence, and the continuing subprime mortgage crisis have converged to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. The next couple of years will not be business as usual for any institution, churches included.
The implications for the future of churches are great if only one of these crises matures. But, if all continue to move toward more critical levels, then churches will have to rethink standard operating procedures. Implications include:
- More family income spent on basics. Food, housing, utilities, and transportation costs are all basics. If families have to spend more on these items, they will have less to spend on other things, church and charitable gifts included.
- Increased building operating costs. If electricity doubles, and natural gas and heating oil prices double, the costs to maintain and operate church buildings will displace staff, program, and missions expenditures.
- Rising unemployment or underemployment. Churches will be faced with more families needing help than ever before.
Experts are predicting these scenarios in the next few years. More tomorrow on what churches can do to transition to effective ministry as these crises unfold.
6 thoughts on “Church at the end of oil and other crises”
I agree that we should plan ahead and even plan for the worse…but most of the scenarios you’ve outlined are not being predicted by the “best economists” out there. In fact oil prices have dropped over 10% in the last 2 weeks. Probably not going to stay there…but I’m not entering Doom and Gloom scenarios like your’s suggest. But thanks for making me think!
Marcus, thanks for your comments. I’m not pessimistic, but trying to anticipate where all this is headed. I hope I’m reading the tea leaves wrong, but lot’s to think about in this very complex and interconnected world of ours. Regardless of the eventual outcome, churches can respond to our current scenarios more faithfully and effectively, I think. Thanks for taking time to comment. -Chuck
These have already impacted our small, working class church in an aging building. We have had to cut programs and staffing–at a time when budget cuts in the city mean we SHOULD be reaching out more to the poor and marginalized.
With the current uncertainties with food prices there is a greater need for us to conserve and be increasingly economical about food consumption at home. We have become wasteful as consumers of food and have never really had a need to feel otherwise before this crisis started. Blaming the rampant consumerism of the supermarkets has now irrelevant in this discussion. The situation now is that if we don’t change our food habits this situation could easily escalate completely out of control. The responsibility is now on us all to change our food buying and food consuming habits.
Simple food saving tips are things we need to get used to and practice more regularly. Most of these are common sense and can be quite creative. You can find a list of free food saving tips at sites such as http://www.foodcrisis.co.uk amongst other similar sites as well.
We all need to contribute to a fairer and more food wise program for ourselves.
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