7) A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before. The passing of the denominationally loyal, very generous “greatest generation” and the arrival of the Boomers as the backbone of evangelicalism will signal a major shift in evangelical finances, and that shift will continue into a steep drop and the inevitable results for schools, churches, missions, ministries and salaries.Though Spencer only mentions this in passing, I believe that this practical problem, combined with educational problem I discussed in my last post, will be violently destructive, not only to Evangelicalism, but to America in general. Let's face it, much of what we call "Evangelicalism" is comprised of a business and marketing strategy that works just like the rest of the world. That is a problem in itself. We have churches that employ marketing schemes and refer to their visitors as "prospects." Our churches do their best to not "turn people off," or make them feel "uncomfortable." These type of strategies (and much, much more) fall under the seeker sensitive umbrella that is best left for another discussion. This is an unfortunate but unavoidable reality. But it seems to me that within this link between faith and economics there exists the seeds not only for the Evangelical collapse Spencer envisions, but for an national economic calamity that will make our current crop of crises look tame by comparison.
For starters, I do not necessarily accept the premise on which this prediction of Spencer is based. It has become paradigmatic to cite the differences between the selfless heroes of the "greatest generation" and the self-centered, narcissists from us Boomers to Gen X. I can't say I completely disagree with that assertion but I do not accept it without condition. I have seen our current crop of young men and women sign up, in the wake of 9/11, to defend this nation with full knowledge that they would be fighting a faceless enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan within months. These may be the aberrant minority but they also represent at least one exception that renders the paradigm inaccurate. There is a spark of selflessness and service in our twenty-somethings that I hope and pray will help to mitigate the effects we are talking about here.
That said, there is no doubt that the simple demographics of the Boomer generation will be financially harmful to the Evangelical movement. Add to that the economic climate that has recently been foisted upon us all and the outlook is grim. No doubt the depth of commitment to sacrificial giving and charity will be tested as the unemployment rate climbs, wages deteriorate, and investment portfolios fade before our eyes. It seems that these are the reasons Spencer bases his forecast on, and I have no reason to argue to the contrary. But I believe there is a more foundational issue at work here -- an issue that will not just be harmful to Evangelicalism, but also to the broader economic philosophy on which the idea of America is based. For that reason, the economic pain felt by our churches and ministries will be just a part of a more substantial and long-term disease that will infect us all.
More on that next time ...