Several Baptist leaders have joined public discussions on how the economy will impact churches and religious organizations, and what lessons might be learned.
Baptist bloggers from Oklahoma to Virginia began weighing in on the matter after a story last week from the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert Parham, BCE’s executive director, offered his analysis in an article titled “Financial Crisis Will Shape Long-Term Religious Ethos.” After noting financial problems for the Salvation Army, Focus on the Family, the Washington National Cathedral, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and several state Baptist conventions, Parham argued that the economic difficulties will result in a significantly different religious ethos.
“A deeper and prolonged financial crisis will likely result in a survival-of-the-fittest scenario among local and national faith organizations, which, in turn, will reshape the religious ethos for years to come,” Parham wrote.
Ircel Harrison, a Baptist educator, outlined his thoughts at his blog in a post Harrison began by explaining that whenever money becomes tight in his family, they consider what to trim back on and continually ask, “Do we really need this?” entitled “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”
Harrison connected this philosophy to religious organizations by offering several questions that he believes churches will be asking of parachurch organizations as the former consider continued support. Harrison’s questions are: “What have you done for me lately?”, “Does it fit?”, “Are there strings attached?”, “Can I get it somewhere else cheaper?” and “Will you love me in the morning?”
“Perhaps church members and clergy leaders will not be this blunt in the way they ask these questions, but they will ask these kinds of questions in the future,” added Harrison, coordinator of Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “Those organizations that seek to minister alongside churches in the coming days will have to be caring, attentive partners who do not take the relationship for granted.”
A recent study published by The Barna Group found that many Americans have reduced their giving to churches and other non-profit organizations, which could result in donations being billions of dollars less than had been expected before economic problems erupted.
Chuck Warnock, a pastor and writer in Virginia, provided his assessment in a blog post entitled “Recession, the Domino Effect, and Churches.” Using the metaphor of knocking over one domino and then watching other ones fall, Warnock reflected on the various indicators of economic problems and what churches and religious organizations should do in response.
Warnock wrote about 10 implications from this crisis, including his belief that “[s]ome faith-based organizations will go broke or be downsized,” but that the “[o]rganizations that survive will not be the largest or the most well-known.” He also argued that “[t]heologies of ministry may get reimagined as choices are made between feeding people physically or feeding them spiritually” and that “[n]ew voices will emerge from the wreckage of old models.”
“The wreckage of the consumer age may yet usher in a new concern for doing good in God’s name,” concluded Warnock, pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. “As economic conditions worsen, we could also see a cascade of compassion in the name of Christ. That’s a domino effect we could live with for a long time to come.”
Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, also sounded the alarm recently concerning economic troubles facing religious organizations. He entitled his blog post “American Christianity Facing Shock Treatment.”
“Churches have not faced the economic challenges we are about to face and we are ill prepared to meet them,” Prescott wrote. “I tend to think that the economic strains we are about to face will alter the landscape of our churches. It’s not the growth of churches that is important but the growth of God’s kingdom. Big churches with their enormous economic footprints are a huge drain on the work of God’s kingdom. They have too much real estate to maintain in a depression economy. Megachurch complexes and the mammoth debts that have been accumulated to build them may well make fine museums.”
As more economic bad news continues to be reported in the upcoming weeks or even months, more religious organizations will likely have to stretch their budgets, make cutbacks and reduce staff positions.
Since Parham’s piece, news has emerged about the financial difficulties of other Christian organizations.
Conservative Christian book publishing house Thomas Nelson announcedGordon-Conwell Theological Seminary announcedBob Jones University reported last month that 55 of its employees will lose their jobs at the end of the year. it was cutting 15 staff positions and downsizing its bookstore. The fundamentalist last week it was laying off 55 employees, after a similar layoff in April. Also last week,
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.
Financial Crisis Will Shape Long-Term Religious Ethos
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.