“The coming death tsunami”

The Ministry Matters blog has a good post on how a projected increase in U.S. death rates could affect congregations. Here’s a graph of the projected rise in death rates:

The post is an excerpt from the book Focus: The Real Challenges that Face the United Methodist Church by Lovett Weems. While the United Methodists have been declining faster and for a longer period than have Unitarian Universalists, the predicted rise in U.S. death rates could have a similar effect on both congregations: older members, who are the biggest givers, will be dying off more quickly than we can replace them by younger people. And this will have serious financial implications:

Countless churches have fewer worshipers today than they did ten or twenty years ago. Most of them, however, have budgets as large as or larger than they did when they had more constituents, even after adjusting for inflation. Such a congregation manages in the early years of decline by the greater giving of their fewer participants. As things get tighter, the lowering of expenditures combined with greater per capita giving maintains financial stability.

A church then gets to a point at which attendance has declined so much that making the budget each year becomes the preoccupation of the church and its leadership. Each year they search for that one new source of income or cut in spending so they can manage to make their plan. They also realize that even these yearly heroic efforts will not be enough going forward as they note the high percentage of their annual giving that now comes from those over age 70.

Weems advocates making budget cuts now to increase financial viability for the future; you can read the whole post here. From my point of view, the most important point is to get away from putting the budget at the center of a congregation’s reason for existence: if a congregation is really focused on “making the budget,” you might just as well close the doors now, and save everyone the heartache of decline; for it will be, not the imperceptible decline that’s going on right now in many congregations, but a heartstopping avalanche of decline.

3 thoughts on ““The coming death tsunami””

  1. Budgets are moral documents you know. I’ve always hated that bromide…

    I think UUA is going to fold first before the demographic shock and maybe that will let a Maoist like 100k flowers blum first as the Churches that were there before UUA figure out how they’ll be the Churches there after UUA.

  2. Went to a great program with Margaret Wheatley this past week, and left with many thoughts about this beloved and dying movement…she shared thoughts on fearlessness (and persistence!)…leaving me with a strange affirmation on the new growth that can come with the avalanche that is way closer than many “leaders” seem to recognize…tis a wise planting time…

  3. Pretty much calls it, Dan. Business as usual is not what congregations should be doing now. In addition to not focusing on “making the budget,” congregations should stop focusing on counting members and start thinking about how many lives (souls?) they are actually making an impact on.

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