A Wall Street Journal/NORC poll conducted this month confirms and amplifies the air of uncertainty and anxiety pervading so many conversations – in and out of church – these days.
When asked about their level of confidence that life for their children’s generation will be better than it has been for them, 78% of Americans say they do not feel confident. Only 21% say they do feel confident.
Tolerance for others, deemed very important by 80% of Americans as recently as four years ago, is now deemed very important by only 58%.
Asked to describe the state of the nation’s economy, 1% (yes, 1%) said “excellent.”
One-third of respondents said they had little or no confidence in public schools.
Most strikingly, comparisons between a similar survey conducted in 1998 and the current survey reveal “tectonic shifts” in values that have defined the nation’s character for generations.
Over the past 25 years…
Those who ranked patriotism as very important dropped from 70% to 38%.
Religion as very important dropped from 62% to 39%.
Having children as very important dropped from 59% to 30%.
Community involvement as very important went from 47% to 27%.
Meanwhile, interestingly – and perhaps unsurprisingly – the perception of money as “very important” rose from 31% to 43%.
So, what in the world does this have to do with your church board?
Every board has a limited amount of time, attention, energy, and passion. The choices you make about how to use those limited resources say a great deal about what matters most to your church. These choices shape the composition – and direction – of your ministry.
You could spend 45 minutes talking about what needs improving in the ministry to youth. But the choice to focus your time and resources there means you are not focusing on other areas of church life.
You could choose to talk about the fact that religion has dropped significantly in importance in the lives of Americans over the past 25 years. And/or you could choose to talk about the fact that tolerance, patriotism, interest in having children, and community involvement have dropped even more precipitously.
Your church is an important community and societal organization. You could choose to think of church in that way and let that lens shape your meetings, mission, and ministry. Or you could focus on what is happening within the church only.
It’s not just that “constituent services” and “putting out fires” in church life can deplete a board’s energy. It’s also a question of what else that energy could be spent on.
Choosing one thing means not choosing a host of other things. And there are plenty of things to choose that block out larger, even more urgent matters. This survey describes a near collapse in fundamental values that have guided our society. Does the church have something to say into this anxiety, pain, and uncertainty, or is the ministry of the church positioned mostly to dispense mild spiritual band-aids and manage the church’s own needs? That is a choice – usually an unspoken choice – your board makes every time you meet.
This challenge has been around since Biblical times. At Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead. An astounding, amazing, wondrous event, and yet the disciples heard the women’s account of the empty tomb as an idle tale. You can almost see the disciples having all their energy consumed by being deep in strategy, budgets, personnel decisions (what are we going to do about Judas?), instead of stopping and looking at the much larger world that God has just presented to them.
In the Book of Acts, the first Pentecost caused many to suppose Jesus’ followers were drunk. Much easier to describe (and manage) that than entertain the messy, disorienting, reorienting, enlivening presence of the Holy Spirit which “blows where it will.”
Your board can choose management of today or God’s hope for today and tomorrow. Your board can idle time in small plans and programs, or risk everything to help God’s intention to heal the world in all its broken places.
All of us can choose to live small or live with God. Almost never can we choose to do both.
Which findings in the Wall Street Journal/NORC poll strike you as most significant? Which would you want to discuss with your partner, spouse, best friend?
Which findings feel most significant for the life of your congregation? Which would you want to discuss with your church board?
What choices are reflected in the church board agenda you gathered around last month?
What choices might you make for next month?