I believe there is a time coming, and for many it his already come, where churches and denominations will have their purse-strings tightened and will have to make difficult decisions that will affect their trajectory for the long-term.
And I don’t know that I think that’s a bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong, being flush with cash as a church or as a denomination would be nice, but I don’t know that it’s ultimately very useful – and sometimes can be very damaging. Recently I’ve talked with a few pastors whose churches were strapped with a problem that is pretty dissimilar from any problem we face at my church – a large amount of money that pulls them down like an albatross around their church’s collective neck.
As someone trained in economics, I know that the greatest efficiency in financial systems happens during times of economic scarcity – companies that aren’t built to survive don’t and those who are built to thrive thrive. That same scenario is already beginning in the American church. It can take the form of buy-outs (healthy churches absorbing unhealthy ones), a higher-quality workforce (as lesser-talented workers go without jobs) and a higher degree of specialization (as churches find and excel in their niches rather than trying to be all things to all people).
The problem for the Church, of course, is that it’s not a economy of efficiency, but an economy of grace.
So while the upside (and I do believe it is an upside) of financial belt-tightening is better churches, better leaders and more intuitive Spirit-led flexibility, there’s also a down-side. The down-side is that, in an economy of scarcity, some will bend over backwards to meet the precise wants of the consumer (ie, Regular Joe Chrisitan) rather than the actual needs he/she has. And, given the reality of sin, we’re prone (as the 90’s & 2000’s taught us) to have lots of of seemingly-effective versions of church that are simply pandering to people’s love for hearing what they want to hear.
Ultimately, an economy of scarcity in the Church will force us to do what Revelation 3 says – become “hot” or “cold”. It seems that either could exist in the scarcity experienced by the early Church, and either will be able to exist in the future Church in America.
The real difference is that we (finally) get to give the boot to those who are lukewarm.
And there was much rejoicing.