We Have Three Years to Figure This Out
Charles is the Canon for Congregational Life in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Charles is also, as I discovered, a master potter and farmer, but in his work with the Episcopal Church he is responsible for planned giving, capital campaigns, membership growth, and many other things dealing with attendance and finances.
The three-year timeframe he was talking about referred to a revelation he had recently in regards to the major generational shifts that are happening in the Church and the radical impacts they will have on faith communities for the future. His calculations are this:
- The primary years that Episcopalians pledge and give to their church are between the ages of 50 and 70.
- Around 2015 (three years from now), the oldest Baby Boomers will begin moving out of the 50-70 age range, and the oldest Generation Xers (my generation) will begin moving into that age range.
Of course, there are two huge problems with this generational transition (which I believe will affect most aging mainline Protestant churches, not just Episcopal churches):
- There are far fewer Gen Xers than there are Baby Boomers and older, so there’s no way we can “replace” those who will stop giving (based on the population numbers alone).
- Generation X is the first generation that will no longer give to support anything based on affiliation (e.g., “I’m an Episcopalian/Disciple/Lutheran/Methodist/[fill in the blank], therefore I’ll give to my local [fill in the blank] church”).
Charles’ conclusion: Churches for the first time ever will need to really earn people’s participation and financial support, rather than simply expecting the “members” to remain engaged and cover all the costs.
According to Charles, “The average small church requires about $220,000 to exist with a clergy person, and I am not sure Generations X and Y are willing to pay the bills required for their wedding photos to be well-staged. I love our churches. … But I think the future of the church will be house-churches which use the church building as a meeting house.”
Charles also shared this amazing story of a new community gathering space being envisioned in his area.
What do you think about these calculations? What should we do in the next three years?
My friend and pastor Dennis Teall-Fleming has written a scathing, honest, critical but ultimately hopeful article for Dmergent.org called “Let It Die,” which addresses these financial realities, especially as they related to our tribe (Disciples of Christ).
This question of funding our future churches will be the primary focus of the upcoming Funding The Missional Church conference, May 1-3, in Minneapolis. I’m looking forward to being there, and I hope you’ll make plans now to join me and continue this extremely important conversation!