It seems that we are at the beginning of a fairly significant downturn in the economy. By all accounts it may take two to three years for the trend to bottom out and for recovery to begin. During this time unemployment is likely to increase significantly and churches are going to have to provide ministry to hurting families, while at the same time the churches will have to deal with the financial impact of lost tithes and offerings. The double hit of needing to do more but having less to do it with will challenge church leadership. There will be a need for new ministry paradigms and for innovative methods for creating multiple income streams for the church.
Fortunately, the churches that are debt-free will be able to weather the storms, but those who have been living on the edge of their resources with large mortgage payments will find themselves in a precarious position. In fact, many may default. In the past denominational headquarters may have bailed them out, but with decreasing property values, taking on the debt while HQ is also dealing with a money crunch make this much less likely.
Churches with these mortgages will be forced to ask their cash strapped congregations to give more, to do more, and to give sacrificially, but this push will only result in exacerbated feelings of guilt as people begin to divert tithes to pay for their home mortgages and other debt payments.
How did we get here? A focus on facilities with little attention on economic trends while going into debt and calling it a vision has resulted in grand facilities with dwindling income.
How do we get out? We must continue to evangelize, keeping our eyes on the harvest rather than on parishioner's pocketbooks. We must offer healing to the hurting, counsel the confused, and love to the lost. We must be willing to do more with less and rely more upon the Spirit than we do upon our money.
Finally, as churches begin to default on loans, congregations must be willing to merge as debt-free churches offer haven and love to those no longer have place to worship. This must be done with humility and without a spirit of triumphalism on the part of the church receiving the financial refugees from the failing churches.