I just asked a friend to run a quick analysis for me: “How much of your church’s contributions come from people age 55 and over?”
His number was 70%.
My friend was unflinching. “Isn’t it always that way? That’s the group that has the most to give, so they give most of the money.” His church looks healthy. The UMC would consider it a “vital congregation.”
But I wasn’t convinced, so I asked him to try a second analysis, if his software could do it. “How much of your church’s contributions 10 years ago came from people age 55 and over?”
This time, my friend came back concerned. Ten years ago, only 50% of contributions came from ages 55 and over. In ten years, giving from people age 55 and over went from 50% to 70%.
A few reasons I had this hunch:
- If your church is at least 10 years old, it’s probably older now than it was 10 years ago. You may have anecdotal evidence to argue otherwise (that booming parents’ Sunday School class, the three infant baptisms last week…), but unless you can show me the numbers to prove it, I bet you’re older. The average age in the American UMC has gone from 30 in the 1950’s to 57 in 2008.
- Most churches – even ones that look healthy – have been living off the leadership and giving of the Baby Boomers for a long time. The Baby Boomers are now ages 48 – 66.
- The Older Boomers (those who were draft age during Vietnam) are all now 56 and older. They’ve been stronger leaders and contributors than the Younger Boomers.
- The Silent Generation (whose youngest are now 67) were loyalists, committed to the Church, and committed to supporting it with their money.
This shows a fundamental non-shift taking place in our churches. As the Boomers and Silent Generation age, the younger generations aren’t shifting to handle more of the church’s financial burden. There are no signs they plan to fill that void.
We’re living off the fumes of earlier periods’ growth. Meanwhile, we have increased our debt, enlarged our campuses (and their accompanying maintenance and utilities costs), and inflated our staffs and salaries.
If giving from ages 55+ went from half of a church’s giving to 70% in the last ten years, what will happen in the next ten? Unless we experience major change, we’ll see a lot of budget reductions.
What I expect in the next ten years… Since we can’t reduce debt and building maintenance costs without serious consequences, the coming budget crunch will hit staffing, programming, and missions the hardest.
In the UMC, I expect many churches will cut their apportionment payments as they try to preserve ministry locally. Politics will ensue. I would be especially concerned if I were a Wesley Foundation or camp that still relies on money from the conference. Look at your recent conference budgets — what’s going up (e.g. directors’ salaries) will plateau, what’s already going down or plateaued will be decreased or eliminated.
I don’t write this to scare, but I do write it as a wake-up call. Most churches and conferences budget as if giving is going to increase in the next decade. They give raises, take on debt, and defer maintenance because they assume they’ll have enough money in the future to support these items. You might want to do more research before making those assumptions. Budgeting on hope and faith sounds nice, but plenty of churches have had to close after they spent their money on hope/faith rather than reality. Some of those churches even hosted Dave Ramsey courses…