Carol Howard Merritt is fast becoming one of the most sensible and perceptive bloggers/twitterers out there. Her post yesterday on the Duke Divinity Call & Response Blog clearly points to a problem with contemporary dynamics of how churches grow and who can be accounted among those responsible for growth.
The current [economic] crisis does not have to do with how responsible, smart, generous, hard-working young adults are. It has to do with the fact that they have been burdened with huge educational debts, high housing costs, limited access to medical care and an increased cost of living. It is because wages have gone down and the unemployment rate is as high for young adults as it was during the Great Depression.
New churches often reach out to young adults, new immigrants and diverse communities. And it’s not as easy for them to become financially independent. The challenge of starting congregations often reflects what’s going on with our larger society.
Can we imagine a church where we can share resources? Where our definition of “church” does not depend on financial independence? Where a community’s status as a “congregation” is not based on how much money it has?
At one point it was the cachet of diocesan boards and conventions not to grant parish status to diocesan startups until they could show a certain amount of yearly income from pledgers. The thinking at the time was that that proved short-term vitality and long-term viability and self-sufficiency. In light of these questions, you might wonder if that’s as critical a distinction these days.
An associated question: In congregations of young/immigrant/diverse demographics, what kinds of ministers are best placed to serve? The word bifurcated comes to mind, as in being able to speak both English and Spanish, or “tentmaker by day, priest on Sunday.”