Category: trends

The Steve Jobs Phenomenon

Watching the news reports of those mourning the death of Steve Jobs, it struck me that for the first time in my experience people are genuinely saddened at the death of a business leader, rather than a rock star, a member of the royal family, or a politician.

Did Henry Ford’s death garner similar expressions of grief?  Or Alexander Graham Bell’s?  Or even Albert Einstein’s?  I don’t think so.  The closest experiences I can remember are the deaths of John Lennon (rock star), Princess Diana (royal), and the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert (politicians).

What is there about Steve Jobs’ death that creates this kind of public ritual of mourning where thousands leave flowers and candles in front of Apple stores around the globe?  Simply, Steve Jobs changed the way we live our lives.

Recently Debbie and I cleaned out our entire collection of CDs, and actually threw them away.  Granted, our CD collection was modest by most standards, but we actually threw away CDs we had paid good money for a few months or even years ago.  Why?  Because all our CDs, and all our new music is on her iPhone and my iPod Touch.  And on her iMac and my macbook, too.

We now have two Apple computers, an iPhone, an iPod Touch (we still have an old iPod Nano with the click wheel), and now we have Apple TV which replaced our cable connection.

In short, Steve Jobs made how we get our media, where we keep our media, and how we access our media more important to us than the media itself.  I pick up the free iTunes cards at Starbucks each week.  I’ll download the songs, which I may never listen to again if I don’t like them, just because I can.  My 32G iPod Touch is not close to being maxed out, and so right now what I put on my iPod isn’t as important as the fact that it’s on my iPod.

Whether we realize this right now or not, this is a revolution in media.  When I was in high school, I bought a lot of records, then a lot of 8-tracks in college, and then a lot of cassette tapes, and finally a lot of CDs.  I can’t remember when I bought my last CD, which says something about why record stores went out of business.

I must admit I have an Android phone — the new Samsung Galaxy S II — which is very similar to the iPhone 4S just released, except only better in some categories.  That might seem like a contradiction to what I am saying, but actually it proves my point.

Watch the 2007 MacWorld presentation when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.  Apple presentations are available now as video podcasts on iTunes.  Everyone interested in business, innovation, product design, or effective presentation techniques ought to watch that first iPhone presentation.  Jobs’ performance is right on target as he introduces the product which changed the mobile phone industry, and led to the eventual creation of Android by Google.

In 2007 all smart phones had physical keyboards.  In 2011, the best smartphones have touch keypads.  And on, and on.  Android exists because the iPhone was invented.  Period.  Now the Apple experience is available on non-Apple products. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery after all.

I have owned computers since 1981 when I bought a KayPro, before IBM came out with their Personal Computer, for ever after known as the PC.  I have owned an Apple IIc (which didn’t work very well), Gateways, Dells, Toshibas, and even a Radio Shack brand, but nothing beats my satisfaction with my macbook which I bought in 2009.

But, now because of Steve Jobs, I would give up my macbook before I would give up my mobile phone.  Why?  Because Jobs was right.  The iPhone did become “my life in my pocket.”

My phone, and my iPod Touch, contain all my music; all my recent photos; all my contacts; all my email; directions to any place in the world; the internet; a camera; a video camera; all of the books I can find as ebooks; lots of apps for all kinds of things I want to do, know, or track; and, I’m sure a lot of other stuff that I can’t even think of now.  Oh, my Starbucks card is on there as a scanable barcode, too.

Steve Jobs changed the culture by changing the way we get, access, and use media of all sorts.  His creative genius, intuitive understanding of how we wanted to live, and his design sensibility combined to transform, not just a generation, but an entire culture.

No wonder we are saddened at his passing.

A Critique of the Film “Divided”

I recently was asked by a church publication in Taiwan to respond to the controversial film, Divided.  Here is my response. I would be interested in yours.  If you haven’t seen the film, here’s the link to the film’s website.

A Pastor Looks At the Film “Divided”

The recent film, Divided, has attracted national media attention for its critique of age-based church ministries, targeting youth ministry in particular.  But despite the film’s message that families should be more involved in faith development in their own children, the film makes questionable connections in its attempt to discredit any and all age-based church ministry, including Sunday School.

Despite its message that family is the basic unit of faith development, the film’s weaknesses overshadow its main point.  Apparently it isn’t enough to suggest that age-based ministries might not be effective.  The filmmakers not only attempt to discredit youth ministry, Sunday School, and other forms of age-based ministry, but they seek to demonize them as well.  By linking Plato, Rousseau, and Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday School, into a “pagan” conspiracy to rip children from their parents’ influence, the film fails in intellectual and historic honesty.

Demonizing those who differ with us has become standard practice in politics in the United States, and now apparently it is standard practice in discussions about church ministry as well. The film seeks to equate age-based ministry with public education, the welfare state, and other public institutions that have fallen out of favor politically in the United States.

The film also speaks of “the church” as though the only expression of the church was in the United States of America.  And, despite the appearance of two African-American pastors as interviewees, the film seems to direct its critique of church ministry toward white, middle-class American church congregations.

Completely lacking in the film is acknowledgement that the church of Jesus Christ is a multi-faceted, multi-cultural body that finds unique expression within the cultural contexts in which it exists.

While there is no doubt that church attendance in the United States has been declining, the film Divided does not provide an answer to that decline.  Credible church historians and academics see multiple reasons for the decline in U.S. church attendance, and none have suggested that age-based programs are the reason.

The film and its producers could have done the church in the U. S. a great service.  Instead, they have produced a film that supports one questionable perspective on church life in white middle-class America, which will be largely irrelevant to other expressions of church in other nations and cultures.

The Echo Chamber of Religion Leads To Extremism

The strange case of Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ leader, ended today in Jeffs’s conviction for child rape.

We wonder how it is possible in the 21st century for hundreds of men and women to be deluded by Jeffs’ bizarre, perverted religious expression.  Jeffs and the FLDS are the extreme result of religion unmoderated by common decency and the wisdom of the greater culture.

Put differently, isolated individuals tend to believe what their leaders tell them.  Cut off from media and outside contact with non-FLDS acquaintances, the FLDS compound reinforced daily that the word of Warren Jeffs was the word of God.

The nation was riveted to news coverage when authorities raided the FLDS “Yearning For Zion” compound near Eldorado, Texas, in April, 2008.  The isolated FLDS women and girls drew comments for the homemade, plain-style dresses they wore.  But, the real oddity was that this break-away sect of the Mormon Church had refused to give up the practice of polygamy and child marriage.  Jeffs was their leader, and his word was regarded as divine by his followers.

The clincher in the case was an audio tape found in Jeffs’s possession when he was arrested as a fugitive. The tape reveals sexual encounters with three underage girls, which Jeffs characterized as “heavenly comfort” sessions .  The  earthly reality was that a jury found Jeffs guilty of sexual assault on these poor girls, ages 12-15 years.  The conviction carries a potential life sentence.

Of course, this is the activity of a cult, we tell ourselves.  But looking more closely, it isn’t hard to find examples of those who live in their own echo chambers, listening only to their own voices.  There are many sad examples of those who cut themselves off from the corrective conversation that engagement with others provides. And, examples come from both the right and the left of the religious spectrum.

When Barack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he found himself embarrassed by the sermons of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Wright’s fiery pulpit presence and his condemnation of America was understood by his parishioners within the context of his own church sanctuary.  But the sermon in which Wright called on God to “damn America” did not play well in the wider culture.   No explanation of the context, or the tradition of the church, or any other disclaimers mitigated the uproar over Wright’s sermon.  Obama eventually disavowed Wright, distancing himself from a pastor who was understood by his constituency but who was not ready for national media coverage.

Media experts tell us the internet enables us as never before to listen to media personalities who reinforce our own positions.  This “silo effect” insulates those who only watch Fox News or Keith Olbermann, for example,  from legitimate challenges to their ideology.

The same effect is present in the religious community.  The most strident opponents of other religions are usually those who listen only to their own voice.  Rev. Terry Jones, the vitriolic anti-Muslim pastor from Florida, represents the same extreme dressed up in evangelical garb.  Of course, Jones’s ministry is more like that of another cult figure, Tony Alamo, who also isolated his followers, compelling them to work long hours for no pay in order to enrich himself.

But the tendency to one-sidedness tempts all of us.  In his new book, Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts, Douglas Noll, a lawyer-turned-peacemaker and international mediator, cites one of the primary reasons international peacemaking fails — opposing parties will not listen to each other’s stories.  Noll also adds “group identity,” with its “us-versus-them” mentality, to his list of peace impediments.  In other words, the failure to listen to each other, and to value one another as human beings prevents the resolution of many conflicts.

When religious leaders whip their constituents into a frenzy with exclusivist claims that “we have the truth and no one else does,” they do a grave disservice to the common good.  When we listen only to ourselves and those like us, we cut ourselves off from our brothers and sisters who might feel and think differently than we do.

To those who object that we must hold up the banner of truth, and keep ourselves apart from “others,” Jesus had a story to tell.

It was about a Jew who set out on a journey, got beaten up, robbed, and left for dead.  Those like him, devout religious leaders, passed him by.  But a man from Samaria, whose religious beliefs were anathema to the Jews, and who were engaged in a centuries-old feud with Jews, stopped to help the Jewish man.  He gave first aid, carried the man to the safety of an inn, paid for his lodging, and left money for the victim’s recovery.  In a rhetorical end to the story,  Jesus asked, “Who was neighbor to the man who was beaten?”  The obvious answer was someone unlike him in faith and practice, someone despised  and reviled by the victim’s people, someone who should have had nothing to do with the victim.

Conversation with others who are not like us, religiously or culturally, tempers our own tendency to isolation-induced arrogance.  Interfaith dialogue, racial reconciliation, tolerant conversations, and engaging with a diverse culture helps us see our common humanity, and serves the common good.

Does the President Need a Prophet?

Isaiah the prophet

Normally, I don’t write about politics because it’s a sure way to alienate at least half of your readers.  But I just read Wendell Griffen’s article titled, Obama Protects the Powerful Over the Poor.

Griffen contends that President Obama needs a prophetic voice in his circle of advisers, one who will speak for the poor and the disenfranchised in our society.  He critiques Obama’s calculated preference for the banks over homeowners, the powerful over the poor, and political expediency over the moral courage.

Does the President need a prophet?  Do pastors need a prophet to call us back to concern for society’s marginalized, especially in this economy?  I thought the article deserved a mention here, and I hope you’ll take time to read it.  Rev. Griffen’s sermons are also posted on EthicsDaily.com, and he’s a powerful preacher with a unique insight.

If you don’t know Wendell Griffen, he was the first African-American appointed to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Currently, Rev. Griffen is pastor of the New Millenium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and CEO of Griffen Strategic Consulting.

I had the opportunity to spend an hour in conversation with Rev. Griffen last year.  We talked about reconciliation and how to help communities come together by building what he calls “cultural competency.”  Through Griffen Strategic Consulting, Griffen’s unique approach to racial reconciliation helps communities and corporations recognize the differences in diverse populations, but also finds common ground for cooperation and understanding.

A New Nominating Process

On another political note, if you’re tired of politics as usual, you might be interested in a non-partisan movement to select a presidential and vice-presidential candidate via the internet.  AmericansElect.org is the first open presidential nominating process using the internet to tap into the growing disconnect between the two dominant political parties and regular folks.  You may or may not be interested, but I find what they are trying to do a refreshing approach versus the two year-long primary process that has already begun.  Visit the site because I think this is glimpse of the future of the American political process.

Gather Your Online Congregation Now

Today I was talking to a friend, Jim Stovall, who teaches journalism at the University of Tennessee, and is a pioneer in developing and teaching web journalism.

In our conversation about how the internet is changing newspapers and journalism, Jim said, “I tell my students to start now, to become entrepreneur journalists, by using the internet to build an audience. Then, when they graduate, they’ll carry that audience with them wherever they work.”

Jim’s statement got me to thinking about churches and what seminary does to prepare you for ministry. While seminary does give students the opportunity to “try out” ministry through internships and “field work,” it usually ends there.

But, if Jim is right (and I know he is about journalism), why shouldn’t ministerial students begin to gather their congregations now, online?

Here’s what I believe an internet presence does for those preparing for vocational ministry:

  1. Provides valuable experience in writing, editing, and communicating. Pastors are primarily in the communication business. Okay, business may not be a good description, but what we do is communicate — well or poorly — the Gospel. We preach, teach, counsel, pray, encourage, and lead — all of those actions are types of communication. Maintaining a consistent, quality web presence is good training for anyone, but especially for communicators.
  2. Creates opportunities for handling both criticism and praise. Many of my conversations with pastors deal with pastors who have handled either criticism or praise inappropriately. Consistent bloggers learn to tone down the temptation to “flame” their critics, and also receive praise with humble restraint. Learning to handle both in real-life ministry situations is invaluable to successful ministry.
  3. Helps sharpen your message. Jim also said that people go to specific websites to find information they cannot find anywhere else. When you’re thinking about your online message, ask yourself, “What am I trying to convey to my audience, and how is that different from what’s out there now?” Obviously, my niche is small churches and small church leaders. Narrowing your focus to families, singles, parents, youth, music, and so on, and becoming an authority in your field will help sharpen your ministry, and focus your energy.
  4. Gathers your community. The big point is that now, before you graduate from seminary, take a church staff position, become a pastor, or plant a church, you can gather an online community. That community can help shape your ministry, and even lead to opportunities for ministry itself, such as a conference speaker, author, spiritual director, or consultant.

Of course, even those of us who are serving churches can enjoy the same benefits, and I have in the six years I have been writing Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

Both ministry and journalism are changing, and the internet is disrupting our notions of what a newspaper is, and what constitutes a congregation. We have never before lived in an age where anyone can have access to everyone. Not even Billy Graham, who has preached to more people in more countries than anyone in history had the opportunity for communication that we do today. Whether newspapers and ministers will seize this opportunity remains to be seen.

What do you think? Have you begun or expanded your ministry on the internet? And, if so, what does that look like? What are the criteria for an effective web ministry, in your opinion? Fire away in the comments. Thanks.

Churches Left Out of Charitable Giving Increase in 2010

While total estimated charitable giving edged up by 3.8% compared to 2009, gifts to churches and religious organizations actually declined when adjusted for inflation.  Philanthropy toward other human services groups, like those which sought funds for the Haiti earthquake disaster, fell even more, registering a 1.5% decline when adjusted for inflation.

The latest information on charitable giving is out, courtesy of the Giving USA Foundation.   Their Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2010, is an invaluable tool for those interested in charitable giving, including churches and religious institutions.

Here are the charitable giving recipients who benefited from the rise in giving (subtract approximately 1.6% to adjust for inflation):

  • Educational institutions up by 5.2%
  • Foundations up by 1.9%
  • Health research and organizations up by 1.3%
  • Public-society benefit causes up by 6.2%
  • The arts and humanities up by 5.7%
  • International affairs up by 15.3%
Here are the losers in charitable giving in 2010:
  • Religious groups and organizations at 0.8% (adjusted for inflation -0.8%)
  • Human services at 0.1% (adjusted for inflation -1.5%)
  • Environmental and animal causes at 0.7% (adjusted for inflation -0.9%)
Trends in how people give are also in flux.  While charitable giving as a whole was up 3.8%, individual giving was up by only 2.7%, meaning that the 10.6% rise in corporate giving raised the overall average in giving significantly.  But, giving by foundations is actually down 0.2%, which may reflect a poor return on endowments, or a drop in giving because many foundations would come under the categories of human services, environmental and animal causes, or religion.

What does this mean for small churches in particular?  While overall religious institutions claim the largest piece of the charitable giving pie, at 35% of total giving, contributions to religious groups are not rebounding at the same rate as education, the arts, and international affairs giving.  Based on the demographic that church memberships tend to be older than the population as a whole, the failure of religious giving to recover might reflect the continuing poor returns on investments held by many older adults.

But, I believe that the continuing decline of religious institutions, churches in particular, also means that there are fewer people to give to support churches and their ministries.  To address this problem, and to qualify for gifts from foundations and even government programs, many churches have formed not-for-profit corporations under which they fund and run their programs designed to benefit the common good.  Some churches will have ideological difficulties in making that leap, but other churches which have successfully done so can serve as models.

The good news for churches in all of this is that charitable bequests are up 18.8%.  Your church might consider doing what ours has just done — establish an endowment fund and encourage your members to leave a bequest to the church in their will.  You will need to consult estate-planning professionals to help your church craft a program that will ensure benefactors that their money will be handled carefully to ensure the long-term viability of the congregation they love.  But, with careful planning, churches can take advantage of this trend in charitable giving.

You can view and download a free copy of this giving report at http://www.givingusareports.org/free.php.

Credit:  Giving USA Foundation (2011). Giving USA 2011: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2010. Retrieved from http://www.givingusareports.org/free.php.

Changing Demographics to Impact Small Churches

 

MSNBC reports this morning that “For the first time, minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.”  

But not only will this demographic change to a “majority of minorities” impact government policies, it will also impact small churches.  The article points out what we already knew:  minority populations are growing at a faster pace than the aging white population.  The previously reported American Community Survey had pegged white children under 2 as 51% of that demographic, but larger than estimated rates of minority births have moved the needle.  White children under 2 are now just below 50% of that group.

What does this mean for small churches?  First, small churches, especially rural or small town churches, tend to be segregated by race.  Obviously with a declining white population the handwriting is on the wall.  Small, predominantly white churches will either broaden their outreach or eventually die as their members age and die.

But, white churches cannot just say “We need minorities to survive” because that demonstrates a self-serving attitude that is not biblical.  Attitudes change slowly among older church members, but even older members can be led to broaden their vision, and begin to take intentional steps to reach out.

Most small churches will need to develop what Wendell Griffen calls “cultural competency.”   This involves an understanding and appreciation for the ethnic diversity of God’s creation.  And, it involves understanding that to meaningfully reach out to others means more that “signing them up.”  It also involves sharing decision-making, leadership, and authority.

Professor Soong-Chan Rah, who wrote The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity, has excellent insights to offer in his book, and on his blog.  If you haven’t read his book, it is one of the must-reads for this decade, and will give you (if you are white) an entirely different perspective on how other ethnic groups view evangelicalism as a whole.

Add to this new perspective, the additional insight that now married couples comprise less than 50% of US households for the first time; that same-sex couples are now 1-in-10 of unmarried couples living together; and, that several states, my own Virginia included, will flip to “minority-majority” status in the next 10 years, and we have the ingredients for major sociological shifts.

What we do not need are shrill voices of doom using these figures and trends to forecast the end of society as we know it.  Social patterns, including family patterns, in the US and world are changing.  These changes present challenges to churches in communicating the gospel, and in reaching out to include a diverse representation of our communities within our congregations.

Social Media or Social Suicide?

Recently I cancelled my Linked-In and Plaxo accounts.  I had previously cancelled my Twitter account, but now have one under @PeaceFriendsCom to promote my blog, PeaceFriends.Com.  I mostly look at my own family’s Facebook posting and photos, and spend almost no time posting to Facebook, except for my blog posts which go up automatically.  In short, I’m pretty unsociable about social media.

Here are some of the pitfalls of social media, as I see them, especially for pastors:

1.  You think you’re anonymous.  “Public anonymity” sounds like a oxymoron.   You know, like airline food, military intelligence, hot ice, and so on.  But Twitter, Facebook, et al, while appearing to really connect us with others, don’t.  What social media do is to create an exchange “as through a glass darkly” to quote the Apostle Paul.  There is a sense that one can post comments or quotes that would not be said or shown in a face-to-face encounter.  Hence, public anonymity.  How else can you explain today’s “boy-behaving-badly,” Rep. Anthony Weiner.  Either he has a political deathwish, or he thought somehow he was anonymous.  The Emperor’s New Clothes comes to mind here for some reason.

2.  Nuance is lost in social media.  The raised eyebrow, the tone of voice, the wry smile, the sense of humor are all lost in social media.  Emoticons, I’m sorry, are not good substitutes for human facial expressions, even if they do help clarify (“is he mad, or just joking”) the writer’s intent.  I won’t even get into correct spelling, grammar, syntax, and all the other skills of proper writing that are lost, but nuance is a big one for me.

3.  It’s easy to be stupid.  While we might choose our words more carefully in a real-life encounter, social media is a linguistic drive-by shooting — quick, blunt, and irrevocable.  Of course, you can delete your tweet, but that won’t prevent someone else from capturing a screenshot and putting it on Twitter again.  Rep. Anthony Weiner, again, is a good example.

Of course, being stupid isn’t limited to explicit images or inappropriate comments.  Pastors and church leaders need to consider carefully their social media interaction, whether on blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other social media platforms.  The now ubiquitous stories of employers checking out an applicant’s Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter accounts before hiring make my point about caution.  Do not think that your social media account is your private business.  If you’re out there, someone in your church or community will be reading and watching.

All of this doesn’t mean that pastors are limited to tweeting Bible verses or Christian platitudes.  But, a good rule of thumb is “if you wouldn’t show it to your ___________ (deacons, elders, spouse, senior pastor, mother, etc) don’t Tweet it.”

“Please re-Tweet this article, hit the Like button, post it to your Facebook accounts, and help me get this out there in the blogosphere,” he said ironically. 😉

Married Couples No Longer a Majority of U.S. Households

The "Father Knows Best Family" of the 1950s is no longer the majority of families in the U.S.

Married couples no longer are the majority of U.S. households according to the 2010 U.S. census, the New York Times reports.  For the first time ever, families without a traditional husband-and-wife now comprise 52% of households, with families headed by married couples comprising 48%.

But the misperception that all singles are young is also fading as single adults cover the range of ages from young adults to single seniors.  While the NY Times article reports that most Americans will marry at some point, this snapshot of U.S. family life is a revelation.  In 1950, 78% of all households were headed by a traditional married couple.  Today, that figure is 48%, and changes in life choices are a contributing factor.

The census data reveals that college-educated singles marry other college-educated singles, and they are delaying marriage until their 30s.  Young women with high school diplomas and with a child or children, are choosing increasingly not to marry their baby’s father.  Social scientists believe that the economy is a factor because young male high school graduates tend to be less employable during hard economic times.

These developments in family life have obvious implications for churches.  Single adult ministries that focus only on young singles, or professional singles, are missing big chunks of the single population.  Churches that seek to attract families, need to realize that the definition of family is broader that mom, dad, and the kids.  More often it is mom and the kids.

Same sex marriages, while not mentioned in the article, will be a rising demographic as more states approve same-sex unions of some type.  We in churches may or may not like these trends, but the reality on the ground is that these are the folks who make up our community, and non-traditional families need our ministry, too.

What do you think?  What implications do you see for church ministry in this changing world in which we live?

The Return of $4 Gas and Other Woes

It is obvious that gas prices are rising quickly again.  In 2007-8, I wrote several posts on the prospects of gasoline hitting $4-$5  per gallon – you can read those posts here, here, and here.  We were well on the way to those numbers in the United States, and then the bottom fell out of the economy on a global scale.  Gas prices fell quickly back to under $2 per gallon.

Now the trend is in the opposite direction again.  There is no gas shortage — we actually export gas and other petroleum products to other countries.  We have a surplus of gas in the United States, and yet gas prices are rising again.  I am not an economist or an energy expert, so I’ll skip the explanations for all of this, but the truth is, gas is going up again.

While I thought the impact on churches three years ago was going to be significant, I now believe the impact on churches may be catastrophic.  Here’s why I think this time the situation is worse.  In 2007-8, as gas prices rose driven by the futures market, the US and global economies were growing and stable.  The subprime mortgage securities crisis had not yet hit, despite rumblings from some investors and economists.  Employment was high, unemployment was low, jobs were being created, and the prospects for the future looked bright.  So what if gas hit $4, we’d just suck it up and keep going in our SUVs.

Of course, things were much worse than anyone imagined.  To prevent a global depression, Wall Street had to be bailed out, along with the world’s largest banks and financial insurers like AIG.  Add to that 2 of 3 US auto manufacturers, and you have  a recipe for difficult days financially.

What does this have to do with churches?  The rise of fuel prices will drive increases in the costs of other consumer goods and services.  With unemployment at 8.8% — although some economists estimate the “real” unemployment rate at close to 15% — more Americans are out of work, not counting the ones who are under-employed, or employed on a part-time basis.

There is no doubt the federal government is going to reduce spending beginning now, which will lead to the termination of many government programs, and further unemployment.  Fewer services will be provided by government in the near future, including (if Paul Ryan has his way) major overhauls of Medicare (medical care for the elderly), and Medicaid (medical care for the poor).  The Federal Reserve is also making noises about raising interest rates due to fears of inflation fueled by rising prices.

All of this will have the following impact on churches:

  1. Church members will have less discretionary income and will contribute less to charities, including churches.
  2. As gas prices rise, most of us will curtail our driving habits which includes multiple trips to church in separate family vehicles.
  3. More Americans will lose services that are now publicly available.  There will be increased need for churches to do more to feed, house, care for, and assist the elderly, the sick, and the poor.
  4. Church budgets will suffer from the double impact of falling contributions and rising needs.

What point am I trying to make?  Get ready.  Begin now to prioritize your church budget.  Decide what your church is really going to be about.  Prepare mock budgets based on different scenarios which emphasize different ministry priorities.

I believe that we will see single cause churches, much like we have single cause non-profits.  There will be churches that focus on senior adults, or single parent families, or families with special needs children.  Why?  Because smaller churches especially will be unable to “be all things to all people.”

We are on the front end of this economic realignment.  Churches, I believe, have an obligation theologically to make the tough choices to minister to the most vulnerable in society, even if the popular political position is the opposite.  We will soon face those choices, and because we are approaching another presidential election cycle, do not expect solutions from either major political party until at least 2013.  What do you think?  Will rising gas prices and other factors impact churches? Why or why not?