If, as we have been discussing, conventional economic growth is a thing of the past, what does this mean for us as Christians? Most models of church rely indirectly on the Western economic model: Solvent church-goers are required to fund the costs of ministry. My church is always short of money. We did a major refurbishment a few years ago and since then we have expanded our staff dramatically. We do more children and young peoples work than we did fifteen years ago and support a lot more missionaries. At the moment the church is considering more work with the homeless – again this will cost money. At the same time our costs have risen: Coming back to our refurbished building we found that energy prices doubled in the time we had been away. There is also little doubt that giving has been hit since the financial crash. One of our missionaries reported that the organisation she works for has its financial support collapse (very surprisingly to me, most of its funding came from big business). Are there any solutions? The first thing to say is there probably is no magic bullet.
Embrace new economics
In our book, “No oil in the lamp”, we had a look at some alternative economic systems. Make Wealth History also covers some of the ones we looked at plus some others in more detail (link to this blog on the right hand side of the page). Since no one has tried to run highly developed societies without oil etc. then the alternative economists are guessing about how to do post-growth economics and what it would look like. But we need to learn to separate satisfaction from money and measure our economy using a “happiness index”. After all Jesus said the “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12v15).
Community will become very important
Most of the new economics suggests an end to globalisation. In Germany self building communities are commonplace. This is one way of providing eco-friendly housing whilst living separately in community. Could this be the way forward as a way of sharing what we have, keeping housing costs down and minimising our energy use? There is an example in Ireland here. The Transition movement also offers many local community initiatives from food growing to local energy co-ops. We have covered some examples in our book. Local food growing is of interest to many and we have started to come across church initiatives. This is an area we think churches could easily get involved with. Some of these initiatives will fail but others will succeed and this is itself important since we can learn from both success and failure.
The church needs to join in.
This is what we said in “No oil in the lamp”
“This brings us to another challenge we will face. Working with people whose lifestyles we don’t agree with towards common, oil-free community goals. Many of us won’t find this easy, partly because the environmental movement and the church have had little contact for many years (if ever). However, we believe such differences do not make churches and Christians cooperating with, (for example) the Transition movement impossible and in fact both sides would probably benefit from the encounter. There is an opportunity here for evangelism with a part of the community with whom most churches have little contact.”
Perhaps we need to examine whether the model of church ministry which relies heavily on employed professional staff and expensive kit (buildings, musical instruments, sound and light equipment etc.) is sustainable in an age of austerity and tightening energy supplies? There are other models of church: In his book Church 3.0 Neil Cole, one of the leaders of the “organic church” movement describes a very different type of church, self-sustaining and replicating but not dependent on buildings or ordained full-time staff. If we are right about the changes that are coming our way, then this kind of flexible set-up could prove more resilient than our current structures. God will build his church and extend his kingdom come what may. But we only have to look back into the history of the church to see that the Church has often been led off in unexpected directions to achieve God’s ultimate purposes.
Neil and Andy