I’ve been writing about the coming, and now present, economic crisis since last year (here, here, and here). Popular financial advisor, Suze Orman, speaking on Anderson Cooper’s show tonight, said that the economy is in “intensive care” right now and will be for a year to 18-months. Then, she continued, we’ll be in the “hospital” for another year or two, and then we’ll move to “rehab” for a couple of years. Bottom line: we’re looking at 5-years of decline, struggle, rebuilding, and finally recovery. Five years.
When asked if this means “bread lines” or something else, Orman said, “It could mean bread lines.” Wow. She went on to add that some who are calling in to her show are already living in their cars. In America. In 2008. And, it will get worse.
My question is: Are church leaders paying attention? I read a lot of blogs, both on my feed and browsing. Several have made comments about the presidential election, the debates, or hot-button cultural issues. Very few — I found only one today — are addressing the current economic meltdown. Shouldn’t somebody be giving churches advice, guidance, and help through these rough economic times? Shouldn’t we in churches be thinking about how our churches will help our communities during the next 5 years?
Of course, this stuff isn’t attractive. It isn’t about growing our churches. It distracts us from parsing arcane theological positions or running off to the next conference. But, this crisis is unprecedented, pervasive, and pernicious. This is not “the-sky-is-falling” alarm. The sky has fallen, and now we have to figure out how we will function in this new global economic mess we find ourselves in. What are you doing? What conversations are you having at your church? I’d be interested to know.
Today is Sunday. Palm Sunday. CNN reports that the Federal Reserve, the United States Treasury Department, and JP Morgan Chase have worked out a deal for JP Morgan to buy the troubled Bear Stearns investment bank for $2/share, down from its high of over $150/share last year. Plus, the Fed also announced an interest rate cut to 3.25% today — on Sunday! So, what does this have to do with churches, large or small?
Just this — many financial commentators are suggesting that we may be in for a long and difficult economic ride here in the US. Some are suggesting even more dire consequences to the convergence of the falling US dollar, the subprime/credit crisis, rising oil prices, the stalled US economy, and the global securities market. In simple terms, when banks sneeze we may all catch a cold, and a really bad one at that.
I’m not a financial wizard, or a prophet, but I am concerned about the implications of the current economic situation for churches. If ever we need to apply Biblical principles of stewardship, now is the time. And now is the time to educate our members to do likewise. Lots of good financial programs are out there, and most hew the same line — no debt, pay cash, save more, spend less, give God that which belongs to God. These principles apply to churches, too. Is your church taking specific steps to anticipate a possible economic downturn? Or, are you just trusting by faith that everything will be okay? Or, is it all out of our hands? I’d like to hear your comments.
On November 21, I posted If gas hits $4/gal, what will your church do? Comments indicated some thought it was not going to be a problem, others were keeping a close eye on economic developments. This week 5 economic items of interest all converged:
- Low consumer confidence. According to government economists, if consumers spend less, then fewer goods are purchased, fewer manufactured, more jobs lost, and unemployment rises. Consumer confidence hit a 5-year low this reporting period.
- Rising gas prices. Oil routinely closes above $100/barrel now. $4 per gallon gas is predicted for this spring. Consumers will likely conserve by making fewer trips, and church might be one of the places less traveled to.
- The subprime mortgage crisis. Note that banks, mortgage holders, and investment banks are writing down billions of dollars in bad loans. Most economists believe this is far from over, with lots of foreclosures, tight credit, and more banks in trouble.
- Weak dollar. I don’t understand a lot about economics, but I get this one from my international travels. When you enter a foreign country, you exchange your good ole US dollars for local currency. A weaker dollar “buys” less foreign currency, therefore you have less money to spend. Other implications also exist, particularly in our national debt, but those aren’t good either.
- Recession talk. It’s out there — the R-word. Recession is being talked about for all the reasons I mention above, and then some.
What does this mean for churches? Churches that practice good stewardship will have fewer problems. Churches that have borrowed to fund building expansion or other projects might face some difficulty. I believe we are in a period of economic uncertainty, and churches would be wise to watch the economic indicators all around them.
Our church is in an area that is undergoing tremendous economic change, and it does affect churches here. Lost jobs, lost wages translate into fewer contributions, plus families move to take jobs in other communities. So, churches can lose not just money, but members, too. What do you see happening in your community? Are your members discussing economics? Are companies in your area hiring or laying off? What steps is your church taking, if any, to weather an economic slowdown?