The Church Amid the Economic Storm


I hate to end 2009 on a down note, but I thought the following was too important to ignore, as it illustrates a pressing reality.

Saddleback Church, home of noted pastor Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Church/Life fame, is facing a $900,000 budget shortfall. Warren put out a letter requesting $1 million from church attendees in two days.

I find this newsworthy because it exemplifies a topic I have discussed here at Cerulean Sanctum for years: Leaders in the American Church are utterly out of touch with job, income, and economic issues.

One of the header lines in that letter says it all: 2009: A BANNER YEAR OF MINISTRY IN SPITE OF THE RECESSION

Honestly, I suspect that too many church leaders, those men and women used to seeing a steady stream of income from other people’s money, thought the recession would have little effect on their ministries. Why else would Saddleback, in this case, budget in such a way as to ensure a year-end shortfall?

Megachurches everwhere face a series of problems related to jobs and income:

1. Too many people in those churches are only there for what they can get because that’s how the church was sold to them.
2. Too many people in those churches are only loosely affiliated with the church and can easily drift elsewhere.
3. Because of #1 and #2, those people feel no obligation to give money.
4. Now add in 10+ percent unemployment and diminishing incomes (whether proportionally or in real dollars).

For years, American Church leaders have failed to plan for the famine despite having the example of Joseph right before them in the Scriptures. Sixteen months after the American economy basically collapsed and still no plan exists. Churches with benevolence ministries got caught amid an onslaught of needy people and the wells ran dry. Yet Christian leaders, especially those on the national stage, act as if nothing happened.

Several years ago, I said that the American economy would be increasingly caught in a series of boom and bust cycles, with the booms becoming less booming and the busts growing larger. We in the Church failed to prepare for the bust of 1999-2002. Then, despite all the warning signs, we failed to prepare for the worse bust of 2008-?.

Now we once again have pundits saying the economy is rebounding (though I don’t believe them in the slightest). That can only mean that the next bust, surely worse than what we just experienced, is awaiting.

And we won’t be prepared for that one, either, unless American Church leaders wake up.

TSinking shiphe problem here is one of pride. Tightening one’s belt and preparing for tough times looks like failure or a concession to doom. Neither of those sit well with Church leaders interested in keeping up appearances. The Church Growth Model doesn’t work when a church’s leadership stands up and says, “Uh, we have some bad news….”

Bar the exit door.

If our church leaders refuse to get serious about practical issues of jobs, income, benevolence, poverty, simplicity, and community, then the lighthouse that is the Church of Jesus Christ will be left darkened amid the storm. We will have no guidance for people when it gets worse, no port to offer.