Tag: unemployment

Church at the end of oil and other crises

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Watching the economy while tending the flock

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?