Monday, February 23, 2009

Economic Crisis Provides Missional Challenges and Opportunities

While many Chinese linguists now challenge the old saying that the Chinese character for “crisis” (weijei) can mean both danger and opportunity, the truth remains that crisis times can bring both challenges and opportunities for those who know how to “redeem the time.” Two items came across my screen today that point out how the economic crisis can be both a challenge and a missional opportunity for congregations.

First was an article on CNN.COM entitled “Heading to Church for Money Advice” (CLICK HERE) that highlights a number of churches reaching out to their communities through budgeting and debt management programs. People are beginning to see that they are imprisoned by debt, and that financial management pays dividends in relationships, not just money. Churches are using the crisis not only to teach stewardship principles, but to reach out to their communities in a caring way.

The second was a summary of a survey done by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) of large churches in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Here are several observations from the feedback received:

1. The economic downturn . . . as one pastor noted . . . presents itself as both an opportunity and a threat! The opportunities for many churches to initiate new ministries and/or expand ministries already in place are coming from the need to respond to the people within their own communities. Some of the programs that are being utilized are, Financial Peace University, support groups for unemployed, food banks, etc. The economic downturn has also become a threat as ministry budgets attempt to adequately fund staff, benefits and diverse ministry programs.

2. 4th quarter giving in 2008 showed that (this was after the economic downturn) . . .
a. 43% of churches experienced slight decline
b. 29% remained unchanged
c. 18% indicated giving increased as a response

3. Pastors consistently identified that members attend worship less frequently now versus a few years ago. The definition of “regular attendance” is shifting in the minds of worshipers.

4. In spite of the enormous ministry challenges and the rapid rate of cultural changes, when asked about how they were personally feeling, pastors most frequently selected very positive feelings. For example, they were excited about the future, focused, thirsty to learn, etc. However . . .
a. One third of the pastors with churches worshiping 1000+ identified themselves as being overwhelmed.
b. All of the respondents that noted that they had been “wounded by conflict” were in churches with less than 800 in worship.

5. The survey also showed that most large churches are growing slightly, have plateaued or are declining slightly in worship attendance. Only a few churches identified rapid growth in the last few years.

6. A “few” pastors identified working to develop a missional or incarnational focus to ministry instead of an earlier program or attractional ministry model.

One only hopes that these times of crisis will provide opportunity for more than a “few” to move towards an incarnational approach to mission and reach out to both members and community with ministries that will help address both immediate physical needs and long-term issues of personal stewardship and financial management.

Finding resources in financial training that are both fiscally and theologically sound can be a challenge in itself.

One of the Resources mentioned consistently as both an outreach tool and a stewardship tool is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. (Click Here for video and info). Church leaders would want to carefully examine his theological and political views before giving wholesale endorsement to his program.

Another group doing similar work is Crown Financial Ministries. See video below. Once again, the whole “theology of glory” approach (If you obey God, He will bless you.) is evident to Lutherans and other theologians of the cross. The key would be in sifting through the wheat and the chaff, but the idea of touching the community with a ministry of financial and relational healing is one that can begin to lead a congregation outside its walls with an incarnational approach to genuine needs.

Who We Are: HD from Crown Financial Ministries on Vimeo.
Lutherans may want to investigate some programs prepared by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, including a downloadable one called “Your Values, Your Choices, Your Money,” (CLICK HERE) that could be used in your congregation. Others could be planned in conjunction with your judicatory stewardship office, your District Lutheran Church Extension Fund Vice President, or your local Thrivent representative.

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