All indications are that in spring 2010 the US economy will begin to show positive economic signs after almost two years of constant negative news. Of course, if there is a major event (terrorism, natural disaster, etc.) then all bets are off.
This news of a long-hoped for economic turnaround is good news for churches. But churches and other non-profits must be aware that their economic turnaround will not happen in spring 2010. It may not even happen in 2010.
When the US economy began going south in early 2008, people began to protect themselves financially. They paid off stupid debt (that's everything except mortgages, student loans, and reasonable car debt), cut up credit cards, began saving more, and gave less to charity, including churches. People have been in this financial belt-tightening mode for two years now. They've gotten used to eating Taco Bell and not Ruth's Chris (well, maybe they'll splurge once or twice a year for a special occasion). We've learned what we can cut out of our lives and still have a life. And those cut backs include giving to church and other charities.
So, when the US economy does begin to turn-around and people begin to feel a little more financially flush, will they be generous with charities. No, not immediately. I think we're dealing with a required change not only in the economy but also in the American psyche. It will take time for people to feel comfortable in donating to non-profits. People are going to have to feel secure in their jobs and in their financial well-being in order for them to feel generous.
I estimate that the church's economic turn-around will occur about six to nine months after the US economy. That means it probably won't happen until Christmas 2010. That means that churches are going to still struggle financially during 2010. That is a great reason for churches to tighten their own belts and cut out things they are not vital to their mission. You know, get rid of all those "sure would be nice" ministries that only use up financial and human resources and add to a church's "mission creep" (when you lose focus on your main thing and get sidetracked).
So, buckle up for a bumpy 2010. I hope I'm wrong. If I'm wrong and you did buckle up, guess what, you'll have some financial leftovers ready for 2011! Happy New Year, 2011!