This post is one of a series, maybe just two, but who knows.
There are some years of struggle ahead for churches. Many churches now don't see it-- things are going along fine. But I guarantee you, denominational leaders see it. The big question is, will we do anything about it? Will we make changes and take initiatives while we can control the outcomes, or will we have difficult measures forced on us?
The problem appears to be financial, but it is really not. It looks like we have about 10 years before there is a severe drop in giving. Most giving comes from people over 60. In some way, that is only right; their earning power is generally greater, and with kids out of the house, their income is more "disposable." But as you go down in age, not only does giving decrease, there are fewer people in each age group in church. There are not enough 50 year olds to replace the current 60 year olds. Get below 30 years of age, and you can see that if 60 year olds are our best givers, there will not be much left of the United Methodist Church in 2040. It will be a precipitous decline. But, we have been watching it happen for years. In some sense, we are in the middle of it. It looks bad, but it's not so bad yet that we feel like we have to do anything drastic to alter course. In fact, there are people starting ministry now who will be able to finish their careers without seeing too much pain of decline in their ministry. There will always be growing churches. The denomination as a whole may be croaking, but there will be exceptions, and each Annual Conference, there will be people flocking to figure out what the growing churches did. Sadly, the power of the guru will grow.
I said the problem only appears to be financial. I guess I should say that if we try to solve it financially, it will only drive us further into ruin. We may drag it out a little longer, but that's it. Sure, we will have to cut salaries, staff, buildings, programs, denominational spending, but we probably won't do any of that until we have to, and it won't be in ways we can control, ways we can downsize with an eye to be more effective. We will be forced to change, with little time to think, even though we have seen this coming for forty years...
If we look at it only financially, we will be trying to preserve the form of the institution, not the work of the Kingdom of God. We must recapture our love for the mission. We must have a zeal that compels us out of the walls of the church to find those who don't know Jesus and tell them of His great love and salvation.
If we look for new members thinking that will affect the bottom line (which it will, but watch out, that is Judas thinking), then we wont be making disciples. And if we're not making disciples, God will be done with us. He'll let us go.
But if we return to our first love, saving souls, everything will be fine. More than fine. the Holy Spirit will have His way in our churches and we will find our institutional forms lining up with His purposes. We may not have the money we want in the places we seem to want it now, but we will have the sources for the work God would have us to do. We will be "aligned" with The Lord's purposes. And then, sometime in the future, after we have again become complacent, someone will have the same problem we have, pushing against a ponderous institution that cannot clearly see, articulate or implement mission in Jesus' name.
All that said, sounding negative and pessimistic, tune in for why I (and others I know) are not discouraged, but rather are pumped up and ready to roll!
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