Lazy Post

I’m headed to a staff retreat here today and so this will be a lazy post with ideas wholly coming from a friend.

Steve Knight is someone you should know  because of  TransFORM Knightopia, and other projects.  While several exceptional pastors are meeting this week in Minneapolis, I’m pondering along with them from afar.  The subject is:  Funding the Missional Church.

It’s no secret that some of our congregations are barely surviving financially.  

I regularly get phone calls  from our denomination’s Board of Pensions reporting congregations that haven’t paid their pastors’ pension dues, and if someone doesn’t cover them soon, those pastors will lose their health insurance.  Often the churches simply can’t afford to pay.

Some of these struggling congregations are in the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago and their own people rely on social services and other churches to feed their families.  Nevertheless, there’s one particular church that can’t pay its pastor’s pension dues, but they offer a safe place for kids after school.  Another church can barely hire a pastor, and yet they feed hungry people breakfast every day.

Steve Knight writes about the future of church finances here after spending time with Charles LaFond  –  Canon for Congregational Life in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Regarding Canon LaFond’s wisdom regarding  the future financial situation of the institutional church from Steve’s blog:

  • The primary years that Episcopalians pledge and give to their church are between the ages of 50 and 70.
  • Around 2015 (three years from now), the oldest Baby Boomers will begin moving out of the 50-70 age range, and the oldest Generation Xers  will begin moving into that age range.

Of course, there are two huge problems with this generational transition (which I believe will affect most aging mainline Protestant churches, not just Episcopal churches):

  1. There are far fewer Gen Xers than there are Baby Boomers and older, so there’s no way we can “replace” those who will stop giving (based on the population numbers alone).
  2. Generation X is the first generation that will no longer give to support anything based on affiliation (e.g., “I’m an Episcopalian/Disciple/Lutheran/Methodist/[fill in the blank], therefore I’ll give to my local [fill in the blank] church”).

Charles’ conclusion: Churches for the first time ever will need to really earn people’s participation and financial support, rather than simply expecting the “members” to remain engaged and cover all the costs.

According to Charles, “The average small church requires about $220,000 to exist with a clergy person, and I am not sure Generations X and Y are willing to pay the bills required for their wedding photos to be well-staged. I love our churches. … But I think the future of the church will be house-churches which use the church building as a meeting house.”

One of the great tweets from yesterday’s event in Minneapolis was a quote from speaker Brad Cecil:  “People stopped trusting the church to do something bigger than the church.”  

Yep.  What do you see for the future church based on these financial and generational shifts?



5 responses to “Lazy Post

  1. While I totally agree with Brad Cecil’s statement, I don’t think (speaking as a Gen Xer) that this shift started with my generation. I have witnessed this attitude in my congregation with Boomers and even pre-Boomers for at least the last decade. The need for the church to “earn” participation and giving has existed for quite some time. As Mark Chaves at Duke so clearly illustrated last month at the UofC Div School’s Ministry Conference, we are moving into an era of megachurches and microchurches with everything in the middle disappearing. Ironically, the beautiful older church buildings that currently house shrinking congregations could probably generate more revenue transformed into historical preservation societies than they can as active congregations. It’s already past time to re-vision the concept of mainline church: if a mobile tent was good enough to be God’s house in Moses’ time, what makes us think that the same thing wouldn’t work today?

    • Hi lfranklin – I totally agree. I’m a “young boomer” and I’ve been watching giving attitudes shift within my and older generations too. People directly give to the Red Cross, etc. rather than through the church. They don’t care which institution gets credit as long as the help and care gets done. The next frontier, so to speak, will be to sell some of our buildings too.

  2. Dan Anderson-Little

    Jan, as always, great post–dang! even your “lazy” posts are great! Another factor in this church finance equation that often isn’t spoken of is the enormous cost of buildings–some of which are beautiful, but old and in desperate need of ongoing repair. I realize it is easier to say that a church should just move out and find cheaper digs than it is to actually do, but I have seen many churches cut ministry and staff before thinking about leaving their building. “The church just wouldn’t feel like the church if we weren’t here!” And cost inefficiencies are also enormous. In a five mile stretch of St. Louis, I know of four congregations with enormous buildings and the average worship attendance is about 75. We heat, cool, clean and repair these buildings at a staggering cost. We have talked a couple of times about merging, but each congregation has its own character, its own neighborhood, its own history (although all are quite similar theologically). So we don’t merge. And we spend a lot of money. And I suspect eventually, at least a couple of them will close. My fear is that this might be chalked up to “generational differences” about institutional loyalty, when one of the main reasons is intransigence of current congregations. Thanks for your faithful work!

  3. Someone posed this question recently to ask their church leaders: What would be the reaction if your church building burned to the ground?

  4. Mary Marcotte

    Sigh and double sigh…. The usual great post that is right on target. Had some conversations today that reminded me of the query about how many of our congregations are one major problem away from a disaster. Working on a cluster conversation about rethinking how we talk about and cultivate generosity…

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