The second of Mr. Vaters’ five changes that are radically altering the church landscape is a chilling wake-up call for church leaders.
2. The Way People Give Is Changing
By every account, people in their 20s today don’t just give less than people in their 50s give. They’re giving less than people in their 20s used to give. And people in their 50s (and 40s and 60s and more) are giving less than they used to, as well.
Because of this, churches must figure out two things: how to do more ministry with less money, and how to find opportunities people want to give to.
Vaters has an alarming warning for those of us who are blessed/burdned (?) with large expensive buildings to maintain.Vaters recalls:
in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations there was no faster way to get people to give than to launch a church building program.
Not today. People in my kids’ generation are more likely to respond by asking “why should I give my hard-earned money to help you build yet another church building?”
But they will give directly to people with needs they can relate to.
The successful church of the next generation will erect fewer (and smaller) buildings, but meet more direct, hands-on needs.
This of course begs the question what churches are to do who already have large expensive buildings to maintain.
Buildings are both a curse and a blessing. But however we view them, they are expensive. Most church buildings were built without the slightest thought to economy. Most church buildings erected more than thirty years ago were not built with energy conservation in mind. They are usually larger than required for most congregations today. And they are generally of an age when maintenance is increasingly costly.
In the past, parishioners were deeply committed to their buildings. But today most people under the age of 50 have far less loyalty to the physical structure in which they worship. For many young people a church building is just a place to gather and they could as happily meet for worship in one physical location as another.
Financial appeals that appear to be primarily aimed at generating support for buildings are going to have a difficult time making headway in our current climate.
We in the church are going to have to demonstrate a real willingness to use our buildings in ways that are increasingly flexible and creative. We cannot afford, nor is it responsible, to have buildings that sit empty most of the week, only coming to life for the worship hours of Sunday morning. It is also unrealistic to expect a single congregation to adequately utilize a building through all the days of the week. We need to diversify.
There is a cost to opening up our buildings to other user-groups. It means our physical plant will be less available for church activities. This cost may be lamented by some, but may in fact, present a genuine opportunity for churches to move beyond a mentality of church as something that happens primarily at appointed times in a specific building.
Church is actually people living in authentic, life-giving, loving relationships in the world outside the walls of any prescribed structure. The structure is a place we gather to be empowered and inspired to live genuine deep relationships in the world we occupy for most of our lives. The days of intensive on-site church programs may be a thing of the past. Our goal needs to be less to attract people into the building and more to send them out of the building. Thus the building is freed up to become a mixed economy resource for the wider community. And church becomes a sign of authentic life lived in the context of the world beyond the walls in which we gather for worship.