As fuel prices soar and Americans are confronted with the harsh realities of trying to juggle a budget without sinking beyond a level of no return, many families appear to be cutting costs wherever they can, especially when it comes to operating their vehicles. What remains to be seen is what sort of domino affect this will have on the spiritual life of Christians and the additional impact these issues will have on churches.
I have been thinking about these issues for several months now, especially as the price at the pump is growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk. I live in a generally rural part of the country where income is not very high. People around here work hard just to make ends meet and just about everyone I talk to tells me that they are feeling the pinch of this economic downturn as well as skyrocketing fuel costs.
Although I have yet to conduct in sort of formal research, several pastors have confided that they have seen overall giving decrease fairly dramatically over the past six months. At first, one of these pastors, an optimist to the core, said it was most likely the normal summer lull in offerings to the church. I hated to remind him that the day we spoke, June 22, was only the second day of summer. No, this downturn in giving runs much deeper than the usual mid-summer slump. And of course, a decrease in giving will in turn start its on chain-reaction of predictable events. For mid-size, large, and mega-churches, the impact will be real but perhaps not will be felt as strongly as with those small churches with budgets that are limited to begin with.
Another area we might not think about being impacted by the new reality of $4 per gallon gasoline relates to church attendance. For people who attend church near their homes or in their local community, chances are things won’t change too much. However, for mega-churches, things might get a bit dicey.
Think about it. Most mega-churches draw not only from their surrounding community, but also draw a significant number of members and attendees for areas far away from the church campus. Around my area, for example, it is not uncommon for a family to hop on the Interstate and drive 30 or 40 miles to be a part of a dynamic mega-church community. The pressing question now is: How long do you think these families, with budgets already strained to the max, will be able to keep this up?
What will happen to these families if they opt out of driving great distances to attend church? Will they become a part of the cyber-church, getting their spiritual fix from the Internet? Or, could this outflow from the huge congregations be a positive sign for struggling local churches? Is it possible that significant numbers of these folks will return to the churches close to home?
I would love to hear what you think about these trends.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved