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April 23rd, 2008

by Bobby Gruenewald

23 comments (+ Add)

How Does Economic Uncertainty Affect the Church?

I’ve heard many different perspectives on this topic from pastors and church leaders:

POSITIVE

  • People return to the church during challenging economic times because they are more aware of their dependence on God during those times. This results in an overall increase in church attendance.
  • People tend to give more when there is economic uncertainty because:
    • they’re drawing closer to God and, as such, are more obedient.
    • they want God to bless them financially.
    • more wealthy people tend to liquidate their investments and consequently have more cash.

NEGATIVE

  • People don’t attend church as regularly because they’re having to work more to make ends meet.
  • People don’t attend church as regularly because they can’t afford the gas to get there.
  • People stop giving, or they give less, either because they’re struggling to pay their bills or they’re trying to save more money for fear that they might lose their job.

We have only been a church for 12 years, and we have seen just a few periods of economic uncertainty during that time. Also, the areas where most of our congregation lives have been more modestly affected than other regions of the US and parts of the world. We have continued to grow in just about every area during those times, so I would say that if there has been an impact…it has been neutral to relatively positive.

How about you? What has your experience been? What are some other perspectives that you have (positive or negative)?

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Comments

there are a total of23
  1. Apr 23, 2008 at 10:27 am

    I’ve seen a trend while Working with many churches every day, assisting them with web and graphic design services. During uncertain economic times, I’ve seen quite a few that try to pay as little as possible for the marketing side of things. It’s interesting which parts of the ministry take the hit first.

  2. 2JK
    Apr 23, 2008 at 11:11 am

    At our largest campus we have seen attendance drop but the giving stay steady. It is a regional campus with the majority of people driving a significant distance. It looks like our core is hanging tough and the fringe/seekers are probably choosing to stay at home.

    Our other 2 campuses are continuing to grow in attendance but the giving is slightly lower. These 2 locations are truly community campuses and the drive is not as much an issue.

    Averaging it all together we are slightly down in giving and down in attendance. We are just barely 8 years old and this is the first real opportunity for us to watch the trend during a time of economic uncertainty but we are trying to learn as much as possible to be better prepared for the next time we see economic uncertainty on the horizon.

  3. Apr 23, 2008 at 11:33 am

    From a strategic perspective, we have faced it head-on by doing a series titled “Recession Proofing Your Life.”

    Prior to planting our church in 2003, I worked as a capital stewardship consultant, helping churches raise money for building or debt retirement. On September 11, 2001, I was in Albany, NY - just miles away from Ground Zero. I was working with five churches at the time - one in New York, one in the DC area (employees working at the Pentgon, the whole bit), another in south Georgia, and two in West Texas, where I happen to live.

    Like everyone else, we scrambled to make economic and spiritual sense out of what was going on around us. And in working with those five churches, I made an amazing discovery:

    The closer they were to Ground Zero, the more faithful they were to give sacrificially and “set their faces like a flint” to move forward.

    The FURTHER they were from the action, the more likely they were to make decisions based on fear, to talk about “the Economy” as if it were their puppetmaster, and generally compromise everything they said they beleived or stood for.

    Maybe it was because all they knew was what they saw on TV or print media. Maybe it was because they lived isolated and insulated from the real fight - the extent of their “action” was to sit and stare at a TV. But I’ll never forgot those brave people who had adult children in Manhattan (ER docs at that), or the pastors who said, “Andy, we’ve talked to our people. We’ll stop and have a prayer service. Then we want to proceed.”

    And proceed they did.

    What’s your take on the difference?

  4. Apr 23, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I’m glad that you all are doing so well… here in the midwest it sucks! Attendance is down. Giving is down. Morale is down.

    We are probably, realistically two to three weeks from shutting the church down if things don’t turn around.

  5. 5Grace
    Apr 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    “Also, the areas where most of our congregation lives have been more modestly affected than other regions of the US.”

    I’ve only attended three campuses — but at those three, I saw decidedly newer vehicles at our church than at other churches in town. It always felt like a spiritual indictment to me… but I tried not to think about it. We should be thankful for blessings, but at what point are we as Christ-followers just hoarding? Would LifeChurch be happy with a plurality of minimum-wage members, or are we looking for those whose “10%” adds up?

    This “economic uncertainty” post makes me feel… nervous. It’s something I’ve been thinking about alot lately. If our church is more affluent, shouldn’t the question be: “How does the affluent church help others in economic crisis?” rather than, “How does economic uncertainty affect the church?”

  6. Apr 23, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I have found over the years that the “core” tends to step up more often during difficult times.

    The newer crowd can tend to back off some unless we take the opportunity to use the situation to teach on the faithfulness of God and His promises.

  7. 8Steven
    Apr 24, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Grace,

    Excellent post. I often feel the same way about our church (LC). It seems most campuses and members are more affluent and I wonder, how/why aren’t we doing more for the ones that really need us the most.

    “How does the affluent church help others in economic crisis?”

    I know Bobby already commented on your comments, but I do think you bring an interesting perspective we often take for granted. I’ve heard this concern voiced specifically about our church in the community numerous times.

  8. 9Mac
    Apr 24, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Bobby, thank you for everything you do to help LC do what it does for the Kingdom, regardless of socio-economic status. I’ve never driven in your parking lots, but I regularly learn from and am challenged by the example that you, Craig and LC set and live out. My personal sense is that a lot of those nice cars are probably driven by some very empty people who could also use Christ.

  9. 10Carrie
    Apr 24, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Steve and Grace- You must hanging out with different people that I am at LC :) Most of the people I know are middle class. They don’t make a huge amount of money or drive expensive cars. Although specific campuses may be more aflluent. I can promise you that the majority of the people that go to LC are not wealthy by any means. At least from where I’m standing. But you do raise a good point that no matter where we are on the socio-economic spectrum, we should always strive to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

  10. 11Jason
    Apr 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I think the impact on the Church as a whole might be more along the line of the negative where people stop giving or give less because they are worried about making ends meet.

    I know that in the past people gave more during hard times as they leaned on God, like in the Great depression when giving to churches was higher percentage than it is today. However, in our society many people have been constantly chasing money, and as Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve two masters …” Many people today have not been taught the stewardship principles that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ since many churches have been fearful about teaching God’s principles of finances. This has been a disservice to our people, and it may have lingering consequences for the local churches.

  11. 12Grace
    Apr 24, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Thank you all for your comments regarding this incredibly important subject.

    Carrie mentioned the term “middle class” — so I thought I would make sure we were all on the same page. Studies show that, regardless of very low or very high income, the vast majority of Americans believe they are a part of the middle class.

    For the record, here’s the actual breakdown (incomes listed are total gross yearly income for an entire household):
    lower class — less than 21,000
    lower middle — between 21,000 and 46,000
    middle class — between 46,000 and 71,000
    upper middle — between 71,000 and 97,000
    upper class — more than 97,000

  12. Apr 25, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Thanks, Grace. As I suspected, I’m middle class (lower middle at present). So not all LCers are upper class.

  13. 14Steven
    Apr 25, 2008 at 9:55 am

    Carrie,

    I agree, understand, and value your conerns raised. In fact, I agree with you in that most LC’ers are middle class. Probably middle to upper middle I’m guessing, especially for the OKC and Edmond campuses.

    I’m actually lower middle according to the stats:
    lower middle — between 21,000 and 46,000

    My point is, there are still plenty of lower class people that see us as “RICH”.

    In fact, if we want to go back to Craig’s lessons just a few short weeks ago. We’re almost all “RICH”. Remember the stats about if you make $35,000 you’re in the top 4% of wage earners in the world, or if you make $47,000 a year or more your in the top 1% of wage earners in THE WORLD? NOW THAT’s RICH, I’m RICH, LC’ers are RICH!!!! Ask Craig!

    The ones really in need for food, clothing, bills paid, a car, a house or apt., etc. Those are the ones I’m talking about needing help the most. I live near downtown (see homeless everyday and often talk to them, as well as inner city poor). By their standards we are WEALTHY. Doesn’t matter if I’m in the far lower end of middle class, I’m RICH to them! These are the ones who need our help. How about an inner OKC campus!

  14. 15Grace
    Apr 25, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Steven,
    Fantastic! I wonder why that hasn’t been done in inner OKC? Maybe a North Tulsa campus? Or how about a bus service between the inner city and the current campuses? Or at least weekly Micromissions to the inner city? Would inner city folks WANT to be a part of LifeChurch? Why or why not?

    If LC is a middle class church, that means at least half of the other churches in town have members worse off, right? (Therefore, LC would be an… affluent church!) So, don’t take it as a slam against LC when I call it an “affluent church”– it just means we have opportunity and responsibility! We should be excited, not defensive.

    I think one of the best tests as to how a church is doing spiritually is a check to see how many widows and orphans are there. Blog readers — regardless of where you go to church, do a widow/orphan check! If you’re a little lacking, start a new committee to go find some. ;)

    And readers who found out your household is lower middle class: keep in mind that the statistics I posted are broken into fifths. So that means 1 out of every 5 people are worse off than you… that’s a lot of people who could use your help!

  15. Apr 26, 2008 at 9:21 am

    [...] How does economic uncertainty affect the church? [...]

  16. Apr 28, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Here in NYC, we are seeing some tailing off as layoffs and paycuts from the Wall St sector are being felt. But giving has been better than what I’ve expected, and there seems to be much faith among the congregation that we will be able to continue in the ministries we have started.

  17. Apr 28, 2008 at 11:01 am

    [...] leave you with this: Swerve.lifechurch.tv is a great blog. Recently, they asked a question about How Economic Uncertainty Affect the Church? It breaks my heart when I read a pastor commenting about how it was making an impact on his church [...]

  18. May 8, 2008 at 6:42 am

    This has been a wonderful blog and it furthers an idea I have had on my heart for a while. Please don’t look at this as me promoting, but more of me trying to help. My church is in the red almost every week according to our bulletin. I have wanted to find a way to help both it and other charities that have trouble meeting their budget. I started http://www.helpinggifts.com for that purpose.

    No matter how bad the economy is people always seem to buy gifts for others. Maybe not expensive gifts, but gifts all the same. My thought is why not give some of that gift back to your church or favorite charity. On top of that, churches always need office supplies. I want a give the church back 5% of everything they spend on office supplies. I want to help and this seems like a good place to start.

    I don’t know if this will work or not. I have only been at it for two weeks now. It just seems like a new avenue to help churches and charities in trouble.

  19. Oct 16, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    [...] a post earlier this year, we discussed economic uncertainty and how it affects the church. Since then, things have become even more challenging and the effects are being seen globally. So, [...]

  20. Feb 22, 2009 at 12:35 am

    The economic crash that has happened around the world, has also happened within the Church. Access Point Church is a new Church plant with a handfull of people. For 20 weeks in row it cost the Church more to function that the income recieved in the form of tithing. This has caused morale issues among the leaders, and has even driven a few to abandon Access Point.

    If the Church was located within a suburban area, or within a metro setting this would not present a problem. Access Point is located in a very rural area. The people that are here are struggling to make ends meet, and now many are hurting even more due to lay offs, cut backs, etc.

    The last Sunday in February closes the doors to Access Point Church. It saddens me to see the words on the screen, but that is the cold hard truth.

  21. Feb 25, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    “…Money Don’t Grow On Trees. How can this be accomplished in this economy?”

    God’s Children are recession proof fruit bearing trees. We don’t wither and die - - we multiply and flourish in this season of increase and prosperity. (Psalms 1:3)

    We set our faces like a flint and accept… no limits, no boundaries.

    With prayer, enthusiasm, truth and beauty, and by wisdomstorming, we will preserve the “bread of the wilderness.”

    Case in point: The megachurch phenomena. Contemplate collaboration and consolidation.

    Ladies and Gentleman of the Faith - - This is but the first of many latter day challenges “The Church” and “The Son’s of God” will face in an era where people cannot accept and endure the truth.

    “HOW GREAT ARE HIS SIGNS! AND HOW MIGHTY ARE HIS WONDERS! HIS KINGDOM IS AN EVERLASTING KINGDOM, AND HIS DOMINION IS FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.
    Daniel 4:3