Richard Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and writing for The Atlantic, tells us that America has changed forever with the current economic crash. As a country, we will have to remake ourselves and the future will not look much like the past. Gone are the heady days of manufacturing, construction, and the suburbs. The creative class will group in large urban conglomerations of cities and those areas full of educated and versatile people will drive economic growth in America. This is a fascinating essay and if you want to be educated on what is happening and what is coming, I highly recommend that you take the time to read it.
On one level, the crisis has demonstrated what everyone has known for a long time: Americans have been living beyond their means, using illusory housing wealth and huge slugs of foreign capital to consume far more than we’ve produced. The crash surely signals the end to that; the adjustment, while painful, is necessary.
The result of this, according to Florida, is that the suburbs are dying. Housing wealth is declining at a rapid pace and it will not return. People are going to be stuck in areas because they will not be able to sell their homes. This will lead to rising unemployment and suburban blight. Florida says something that I have been saying for about six months now: It is smarter to rent than to own a home. Instead of an investment, home ownership is going to be seen as a liability in the future. Glenn Beck has an amazing video on that HERE (the average American home was worth twice the historic market value in 2006. A correction has started and will likely not stop until the average American home loses half its value from 2006-2007.).
So, how will this affect the church?
After World War II, the evangelical church fled to the suburbs with the rest of white, affluent America. We built huge suburban megachurches and we tailored the gospel and church to the desires of the American consumer in search of the American Dream of things, entertainment, multiple cars, home ownership, big yards, and grandiose living. All of that is crumbling and is being reshaped. We are returning to the cities. The suburbs are going to become more and more impractical. Personal and family wealth is going to drop and be reshaped in substantial ways before picking back up again. Florida is comparing what is happening now to the reshaping of America between 1870 and 1900, when America went from a largely rural and agrarian economy to an industrialized urban economy. After WWII, another shift occurred where people moved out of the cities and into the suburbs. Now, people are going to be moving out of the suburbs of many smaller cities and back into city centers and to parts of the country that are able to develop creative growth and potential like the Boston-NYC-Wash. DC metroplex. How will the Evangelical Church respond? We are ill fitted for an urban, multicultural environment at this point. We must recover the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think that churches are going to need to be smaller and more adaptive to changing environments. The days of house church networks that gather together sporadically will be upon us in this changing environment. Professional ministry and large church staffs and budgets will give way to teams of bi-vocational church planters who gather smaller groups together to grow spiritually in a more adaptive way. There will still be a place for the more traditionally structured church, but many, many will die along with suburban areas and cities that are no longer useful in the changing economy.
The Evangelical Church needs to return to the timeless truth of the Gospel instead of running after size and influence by appealing to consumers. America will have to return to creating ideas and addressing issues related to how to best live on this planet instead of just consuming stuff. The Church can speak into that if we return to reflecting the image of the Creator. God really can speak into this environment if we understand the gospel makes all things new. As America recovers from its half-century binge of overindulgence and becomes leaner and more productive, the Church, fueled by the gospel, can actually be a part of this transformation.
We can also minister to the millions that will be left behind in this purge. Millions and millions of Americans have bought into the lie of the American Dream and they are in no position to transition out of its dying grasp. Their jobs are tied to industries that are disappearing and they have sunk their life savings into homes that are losing value. Their investment is going, going, gone as is their hope for the future. What will the Church of Jesus Christ offer to millions of people who have lost their hope?
We must first make sure that our hearts are pure and that we have forsaken the things of this world. If the Church is eaten up with hopelessness because our housing values and 401k's have dropped, then what can we offer the world? We must get our heads out of the sand and realize that God is our hope and identity, not our jobs, our homes, or our fading standard of living. If we do not have that hope ourselves, then what will we offer to others?
We have been praying for revival in America for many years. With great disruption and loss comes spiritual openness. People who are losing everything need Someone to cling to. When all the idols of the world have failed them, will they finally turn to the Lord God? Many, perhaps most, will not. They will look for new idols. But, as the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, millions will.
All that we have is a few loaves and fish at this point. But, the masses are hungry and looking for answers. We can do little on our own. We, ourselves, are hungry and are being depleted by the ravages of this crisis. But, if we offer what we have up to Jesus, He will multiply it and many will be fed. He is the Bread of Life. He is the Living Water. It is hard for the rich to enter heaven and we have been oh so rich. As we become poorer because the wealth of this world has failed us, we will begin to turn to God.
That is my prayer. I sense that an amazing window of opportunity is opening for the Church to be the Church. Over the past 10 years, God has impressed upon us the truths of Isaiah 58 and how we are to minister to the poor and be missional in our mindset because God is a missional God. Were the lessons that the church learned during the relief work for Hurricane Katrina to prepare us for this kind of ministry? Could it all be for such a time as this? Could the window of opportunity for an amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit be opening for the Church that still clings to Jesus as our only hope? I think so.
How many of us will respond? The answer to that lies in how many of us cling to Christ alone. He is not defeated or surprised by this. Jesus is enough.