2009 in review: Trends and possibilities I’ll be watching in 2010

As the new year approaches, here are some trends and possibilities that I think may have an effect on liberal religious organizations:

  • Obviously, I’ll be watching the 2010 national census carefully. We won’t be getting real results from the census for a while; nevertheless, I’ll be watching the news about the changing demographics of the United States. How multicultural are we now, and how big is the disparity between the people in our congregations, and the wider population? Where are the population growth areas, and where is population declining?
  • I’ll be paying close attention to the economic news; in particular, I’ll be watching the unemployment figures and the level of charitable giving. In tandem with the economic news, I will be watching to see how many local congregations do one or more of the following: cut total staff; move to part-time ministry or eliminate paid ministry; reduce or eliminate paid religious educator positions. I’d love to be able to know how much maintenance will be deferred, as local congregations delay necessary expenditures on their physical plants, thus forcing future generations to deal with exponentially increasing problems. Finally, I’ll be looking for success stories, congregations that manage to improve their financial position — and trying to figure out how they do it.
  • I’ll be looking at the numbers of children both nationally and locally. Birth rates were predicted to go down last year due to the economic situation, but we’re still in the middle of a baby boomlet: there are large numbers of babies and young children in the U.S. right now. At the Palo Alto church we’re seeing a small uptick in average Sunday school attendance this fall. I’ll be watching to see if other local congregations manage to attract larger numbers of children — and again, trying to figure out how they do it.
  • Thanks to Terry here in the Palo Alto church, I’ve been learning about ISO 9000 (Wikipedia has a short introduction to this set of standards). This is a set of standards for quality management: ideally, ISO 9000 provides ways to monitor processes and procedures in an organization, checking actual outcomes against desired results. Terry assures me that ISO 9000 standards have been usefully applied to nonprofits; she is currently working on implementing some ISO 9000 principles at our church. I don’t foresee local congregations seeking out ISO 9000 certification (although it’s an interesting possibility for denomination headquarters), but I do think we can learn from the principles behind the standards.
  • I’ll be paying close attention to new and existing social media, and to the ways nonprofits and churches use social media. Along with that, I’ll be watching to see if there are changes in social interactions as more and more people try out new social media. Will the tyranny of email finally be broken? — and will it simply be replaced with a new tyranny, e.g., the tyranny of Facebook?

I’ll continue this list in a later post….