iMonk Predicts The Coming Evangelical Crash

Worth a read. The Coming Evangelical Crash is part one in a stream of thoughts from the blogging iMonk. Same of the same stuff I was saying a decade ago and the stuff that has caused us to change our methodology so drastically. Big one for me is sustainability. Evangelical leaders can talk all they want about getting their doctrine right but the movement itself, except the house/organic church movement and some other creative low-flying movements, is financially unsustainable in its present shape. Thats number se7en:

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7) A major aspect of this collapse will happen because money will not be flowing towards evangelicalism in the same way as before. The passing of the denominationally loyal, very generous “greatest generation” and the arrival of the Boomers as the backbone of evangelicalism will signal a major shift in evangelical finances, and that shift will continue into a steep drop and the inevitable results for schools, churches, missions, ministries and salaries.

Yes, and add to that seminaries and conferences.

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Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

29 Comments

  • The patterns are similar, however the American experience is it’s own unique story. I would also add that we have the ability of learning from the events in the rest of the world. The role of the Internet in the life of the church may play an interesting role in how this transpires.
    Just my 2 cents (pence) whatever…

  • Last summer, we closed our traditionally-constitued Vineyard Church and re-opened as a community-based ministry network (www.vcmn.org for details).
    I just sent a newsletter to our members with comments on our situation entitled: “Are we building Noah’s Ark?” As you point out, sustainability of the old-order ministry structures is a MASSIVE issue and is likely to only be more of one as time goes on.
    This is not a “we’re right/ you’re wrong” issue. This is a plea for us to reimagine ministry by choice before extreme crisis forces us to do so.

  • David – I agree, that we have the ability, the Q is whether or not we in the US will listen. For example, I am seeing some signs of people really getting creative — Missio Dei’s upcoming conference look like it’s an excellent horizontal, low cost, low impact model to bring people together for some creative brainstorming. I just got back from the Trinity Institute’s annual conference where I saw some moves towards sustainability I hadn’t seen in recent years (and if this can happen on Wall Street, it can happen anywhere).
    But then, I am also getting more than my fair share of invites to pay money (that I don’t have) to hear some innovative speaker, attend the event that will transform my faith, buy all three of X authors recent hits, blah, blah, blah. The writing is on the wall that this model isn’t working anymore which is why I encourage folks to rethink promoting oneself and one’s product right now – conference attendance is down, those who are putting out multiple books in 2008 and 2009 are selling below predictions (I’d argue one book every year or year and a half max in most cases) and so on.
    So, the Q for me is if we are going to follow the new sustainable models or simply keep pushing this evangelical model until as IMonk noted, it runs out of faith fuel and stops? My hope is that we can use this time for some real creative imagination here.

  • Andrew and others,
    this is hits on a question that I’ve been asking friends and family for a little while now – what’s wrong with allowing it (Evangelicalism…other monstrous sacred cows) to crash? is there some dreadful fear that the church won’t go on? can you help me understand what it is we’re trying to get at when we discuss sustainability of something like this? is sustainability a rescue attempt or is it the development of something from what we will see are the ashes of whatever crashes (that’s not meant to rhyme but it sounds kinda fun)? (shoot me an email if the comments section is too short for this reply…thanks).

  • dan – read that post of mine on the fourth sector (listed above) where i explain the importance of sustainability for overseas missions, as well as its history in africa last century. we need to get back to it and get back to new testament principles also.

  • This sounds more like the collapse of the American Bible-belt right-wing fundamentalism than the collapse what I would think of evangelicalism. Perhaps we can learn from their mistakes but I am cautiously optimistic about the growth of new churches/house churches/etc. particularly in the UK. Hearing this makes we wonder again about using the term evangelical particularly when Americans might get the wrong end of the stick. What do you think?

  • This sounds more like the collapse of the American Bible-belt right-wing fundamentalism than the collapse what I would think of evangelicalism. Perhaps we can learn from their mistakes but I am cautiously optimistic about the growth of new churches/house churches/etc. particularly in the UK. Hearing this makes we wonder again about using the term evangelical particularly when Americans might get the wrong end of the stick. What do you think?

  • David – the model I am referencing applies to other Christian gatherings as well – for example, I’ve met anti-poverty and environmental activists who jets sets from one conference to the next to the point that these self-appointed spokesmen seem to have lost touch with the real activism that’s happening on the ground. I’ve lost track of how many “liberal” gatherings I’ve been to that looked more like an Ivy League college reunion than the body of Christ.
    Also, given the price of some of these events not to mention the carbon footprint, this raises a host of Qs relating to proper stewardship of one’s resources. All of us who partake of this system (me included) need to look at how we use our resources.
    And on a soul level, Naked Pastor did an excellent piece noting the problem we have of elevating certain people as our idols as though we bestow our power on to them as the experts instead of looking for more horizontal ways of sharing – http://www.nakedpastor.com/archives/2652

  • i think, in the USA context, that evangelicalism is often associated with right wing conservative republicans – moralists policing society with the Bible and the certainty they have the correct interpretations of Scripture. This form of Christianity is a dark, deeply rooted poison that will eventually die because it is irrelevant. If it brings death rather than life, then it must die.

  • Andrew, from a brief read of your article, it sounds like utilizing business money in order to support missions. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like such a problem; except that the ingrained theology of evangelicalism still exists. So, is it fair to say that evangelicalism is simply dying in the U.S. while its offshoots remain alive and well in other parts of the world?

  • actually, dan. its more but i guess i didnt tackle it in that article..
    the current system of seminary training single leaders, insistence on large buildings that remain largely unused, executive salaries for big time pastors, etc, combined with a stubborn and ignorant LACK of enterprise, is unsustainable in the next generation.
    some of us have already moved to a different model which resembles the early church

  • To that I would add the author/speaker traveling road show that presumes the dissemination of information form experts who come in to town to sell their shtick and then hop on the train for the next time. Andrew’s one of the folks who’s been teaching me how to travel pilgrim style, where I go into an area and absorb the ethos of the area – this is greatly influencing how I do my work as a satirist/journalist.
    I’d add the Christian conference/publishing circuit that continues to generate product sold by said leader. As you’ve reported that bubble appears to have burst, though I continue to get invites from folks – they appear to be oblivious to the fact that in a dismal economy, we can’t go anyway – not to mention that most of the invites I get are for speakers I went to see in 2008.

  • What I-Monk say abt the emerging church:
    “I believe the emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision. I expect to continue hearing emerging leaders, seeing emerging conferences and receiving emerging books. I don’t believe this movement, however, is going to have much influence at all within future evangelicalism. What we’ve seen this year with Tony Jones seems to me to be indicative of the direction of the emerging church.”
    And…
    That Grassroots movement (Shane Clairborne) is mostly going to embrace Obama progressive Statism, abortion and gay marriage, and that will put the whole thing back with the emerging church, with the mainline liberals and off the evangelical map. See my comments about Tony Jones. Some good will come, but I am quite pessimistic about the emerging church at this point. Many of its most vocal leaders seem to be headed directly down the predictable road of twentieth century liberalism, except some are going well beyond that into esoteric forms of Christianity (ex John Crowder) that are apostate.”
    That’s what I see – “emergent” gatherings being Obama rallies…correct me if I’m wrong Steve Knight 🙂
    I agree that so many of the emergent leaders are headed down the well-trod, predictable road of 20th Century liberalism. They’ve sold the gospel short and will be irrelevant in a a few years.

  • So shane Claiborne and the new monastics are going to emabrace ‘Obama progresive statism’ and merge with the liberals? I don’t buy that. I believe there’s a grassroots Kingdom movement going on that will stay small and never become mainline, but I don’t think new monastics (and other missional small group movements) are ever going to be absorbed in the mainline liberal protestantism. And if the crisis comes in dramatic proportions, that’ll be the kind of christianity that’ll flourish…
    Anayway, I don’t know at all much about how accurate his predictions could be, as I’m not connected to america in any way (I’m writing from belgium)I live in a secular and dechurched country where much people don’t even know something like evangelicalism does exist…
    Brambonius…

  • greg – the ec a huge and multi-colored movement – some leaders have and some haven’t. some are discounting the gospel and some are highlighting the gospel. easier to talk about particular networks and movements than EC in general.
    brambonius – i think the global south’s influence is pushing us towards a more supernatural and vibrant christianity which is the very opposite of rational liberalism. but there are similarities in practise with marginal theologies, social justice and enterprises among the poor.

  • Exactly, Andrew – and I want to say I see lots of good stuff in certain quarters of the EC movement and not so good stuff in others. I just posted IMonk’s further thoughts to extend this thread specifically toward the EC.
    Brambonius – I hope you’re right about Clairborne & the new monastics. One common thread among them, however, was their strong anti-Bush sentiments and anti-Imperial-America-ism and now it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to Obama (same empire, now under new mgt). Of course there are elements they have I wholeheartedly agree with. Again, I hope you’re right that the Anabaptist/Claireborne/New Monasticism/grassroots movement doesn’t become just the latest, hippest fad in Protestant liberalism.
    BTW, I’d love to hear more abt your context there in Belgium. Can you link us to your blog or something?

  • Andrew, thanks for posting a link to Michael’s article and your thoughts. His subsequent post on what will be left after evangelicalism’s collapse prompted me to think about what the churches that inherit whatever is left look like? And what should we call those who remain?
    Leftovers sounds pejorative. Remnant – too sanctimonious. So I settled on “The Heirs to Evangelicalism,” http://nakedchurch.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/the-heirs-of-evangelicalism/
    This is a church that will be more charismatic, less fundamentalistic, and, among other things, Green.

  • I do have a blog, but it happens to be in my own language, which happens to be not english but dutch (brambonius.wordpress.com)… In dutch we have 2 words where you have the word liberal, one is ‘vrijzinnig’ which describes imho a faith that is ripped-off of everything that’s meaningless, like the catholic school where I went to as a child (no miracles, no real ressurection, maybe god doesn’t even exist but anyway be nice to eacht other…) and ‘liberaal’, which is used more in a political context, and which means something like allowing much personal freedom I guess… I do think the EC may be leaning towards liberal christianity in the second sense, but I don’t feel like they’re going down to the dead christianity that I know from belgian nominal catholicism. And I hope I’m not wrong in that…
    about belgium. It used to be a catholic country until WW II; there’s hardly no mainline protestantism, and some really small evangelical churches, but not much, and they remain mostly under the radar. I think the biggest evangelical community are black pentecstal churches in the cities of antwerp & brussels… But the country is very secular, faith is something of a long-gone era, except when, it’s something cool and new-agy I guess…
    shalom
    Bram

  • Shane Claiborne does not self-identify with emerging church – he is also one of the few progressives where to be honest, I don’t know how he voted. He has made it very clear throughout his work that he believes we need to create another world apart from empire. To equate him as anything other than a Jesus follower is to do a disservice to his ministry.
    What I am seeing at least in US Episcopal circles are the beginning of connections to the UK Anglican stream e.g., Fresh Expressions and the Rev. Karen Ward (COTA). There’s also a growing Latino emerging stream starting here in New York City called the Latino Leadership Circle. These streams seem to be flowing more or less on their own and it’s very exciting to see them in action.
    The aspect that seems to be dying were those efforts to brand and market the movement – the economy appears to be the final straw that caused this Christian camel to break as you’ve reported elsewhere.

  • The movement is so big that it’s due for a few factions. That’s normal. The question is if two or more factions will be as powerful as the singular voice was. Interesting to watch.

  • Question (I seem to have quite a few of these lately): When we talk about American Evangelicalism [I assume], we’re talking about a monstrosity (i.e. quite a large movement, entity, choose your word). Now the prediction is that this monstrosity is going to fall. Here’s the question: are those who are moving into various differing spaces (early church and emergent church particularly) looking to regain ground that the Evangelical entity will have, or has, lost?
    Andrew, you mentioned that the EC is “multi-colored.” And I hate to seem like the guy who toots the same note on the horn, but where is the multi-colored-ness?
    Thanks all.
    Peace.
    Dan

  • I’m not sure I agree with the conference/seminary death idea. People will always be seeking ways to learn, grow and lead others. And the context for that will always be a large gathering around someone who knows. Always has been that way and likely always will be.
    The context or medium may change (online as example) but the need will never go away.

  • Minor correction – the Latino Leadership Circle doesn’t identify with emergent – I should have made that point a bit clearer. But check out their blog as it’s pretty exciting what God’s doing here. http://latinoleadershipcircle.typepad.com/latino_leadership_circle/
    Jonathan – as a graduate of Yale Divinity School, I welcomed the lectures and agree there’s a definite place for that type of learning. It just seems that they author/speaker model tends to take center stage (as fueled by publishers), a dynamic that has been discussed elsewhere on this blog.
    I do think the medium in which one conveys the message does need to change, another topic that has been discussed in the blog postings that Andrew noted in this posting.

  • Becky,
    In regard to the questionable validity these days regarding the place of author/speaker models, I wonder to what degree this isn’t the only place sometimes where people have the opportunity to lift up their voice. And, it seems pretty typical that people in the West learn through reading and conversing with one another (sometimes our listening abilities are pretty questionable…LOL…). Can you expound a bit on this and offer alternatives that you think would do a better job of disseminating the information involved?
    Peace.
    Dan

  • I posted links to iMonk’s posts on my blog, and most commenters said that while it might have some point in the USA, it didn’t apply elsewhere. That seems to be a consusnsus in other places as well.

  • as a bible college professor and pastor of a hard-to-classify post-liberal orthodox church called Freedomize Toronto, i see edcuation might be changing in some ways (moving to online classes in many instances) and methodologies may change as well … but i don’t see the local evangelical church crashing anytime soon … we see growth … and the small group system will enhance it but not supplant it as we need action at a level larger than groups of 10-20 … concerted efforts from the next generation give me confidence that even as some pass away, God’s church will stay strong in North America and everywhere else.

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