March 15, 2022

Looking to the Future: Possible Trends that May Affect the Church

With the consulting work our firm performs across the nonprofit philanthropic spectrum, my involvement as an active volunteer for the Diocese of Atlanta, and the changes wrought by the last two years of COVID-19, a number of my worshipping friends have inquired about what my predictions are for the Church. With both “fear and trembling” and wild abandon, I offer the following.

First, I think there will be a growing demand for churches to raise the funds necessary to increase the production value of their virtual presentations. As with retail companies, both the storefront and online platforms combine to sustain their business model. Similarly for churches, both physical structures and virtual offerings will work together to feed the members of faith communities. And particularly with regard to the younger, “digital native” members and prospective members, virtual attendees will not long tolerate bad connections or poor visuals before moving to a video game or social media site. It will be a challenging assignment for The Episcopal Church to maintain one’s virtual attention. As an example, standing in line for the Eucharist during worship is not “made for prime time” viewing at all. But interesting, informative pre-recorded virtual segments can hold viewers’ attentions until, say, the choir re-enters the worship service picture. None of the production changes needing to be made will come cheaply.

It’s not worth guessing how church building space will be re-designed in the next few years, but from what I’ve learned from conducting school building campaigns, more attention will be placed on security, which increases construction expense. I’m pleased that the Bishop of Atlanta, Rob Wright, has decreed that guns are not allowed in church buildings. However, the result of such a courageous and faithful move is that the desire for countervailing measures will increase to “lock down” building sections should violent acts occur and/or to facilitate directed escape. Again, such precautionary security steps typically increase the expense of construction. Non-violence is never without its costs.

COVID-19 and its variants, in addition to killing over 943,000 Americans, will also cast its deathly shadow over a number of Episcopal churches. And for so many parishes that did not succumb to COVID’s wrath, they are left teetering on the brink and can no longer afford a full-time priest. I’ve found it both interesting and exciting during the last five years of serving on the Diocese of Atlanta’s Commission on Ministry that more time and attention has been given to creating a path to ordain those who will become bi-vocational priests. This form of vocational leadership will become a lifeline to many of our smaller parishes.

And finally, as it is often said, “If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Well, I’m a professional fundraising consultant and I admit it is very tempting for me to think that so many of the Church’s problems can be solved by raising more money and managing resources more wisely. (Way too reductionistic, I know, but I’m betting you can understand the nature of my seduction.) So here is my sobering word of caution to our current and future ordained leaders of large parishes — Just as headmasters (i.e., head teachers) of schools have been replaced by the Head of School, and just as chief doctors of hospitals have been replaced by the CEO, don’t think that rectors of corporate-sized churches won’t soon be placed by experienced, visionary businesspersons. (And bishops, for that matter, would not be immune from this trend.) I for one would not like to see members of the ordained ranks being reduced to consecrating the elements, or placing hands on heads to preserve apostolic succession. It is for this reason that I think it important for seminarians (or at least those students who aspire to large church leadership) to take a course in Resource Development and Management so they won’t have to cede this vital, responsible ministry to others. In the words of Henri Nouwen, “Fundraising is ministry.” And in the words of Rob Townes, “No money, no ministry.” (I used to say, “No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” but too many don’t remember him.)

It is my hope that the work of the Church – to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ – will continue, and we will increase our ministry and service for building the Beloved Community here on Earth. I rest in this hopeful posture because I believe it is God’s desire to increase God’s connection to all the world, and especially us children. I can’t think of a better campaign to join. Can you?