The emptying of malls across America is a particularly gloomy indication of the state of her middle class. Luckily, all that property and infrastructure will not go to waste. As religion begins to fill the gaps in the minds of a poorer and dumber promised land than ever, these properties will most likely become super churches.This is not to say that religion or church is exclusively for dumb people. It is more like a statistical fact, one that any common observer can validate.
According to the most recent OECD report America’s public schools are not only among the most expensive, but they are also not too great. As we have seen in documentaries like The Cartel, US schools battle administrative corruption, unions, and tax cuts all these factors add up. Of course this is not too big a problem because there aren’t enough jobs for those that do get an education. Today’s graduates are getting degrees but not jobs . Besides, the fact that the domestic manufacturing industry is an emaciated form of its previous self, more and more administrative functions are being automated.
Ironically, the healthcare industry is expected to grow a steady 15% over the next 3 years. I know what you are thinking, no the preventative medicine sector is not expecting to grow at the same pace. A perfect storm may be in the clouds, casting a gloomy shadow on an already, not-so sunny picture. Jobs are down, and declining, which means people penny pinch instead of buying expensive health foods. When they eat poorly, short term and long term health declines, leaving not much for people to look forward to, except of course Sunday morning.
One of the most powerful effects of spirituality and religion is that it makes sense of it all. Religion provides clarity in the face of uncertainty, it provides hope where there is doubt. It is safe to say that the future of America’s manufacturing and agricultural sectors are uncertain. With these having been the cornerstone of our booming growth in the industrial period the areas supported by these industries need answers. Where better to look for answers than to God?
Enter the church. We must understand that the church is not simply a place of religious worship, but also functions as a community center. It would be a narrow view to assume that these organizations are simply profit centers for the religious elite. There are book sales, and speaking tours, and television broadcasts that come revenue for celebrity spiritual leaders but the edifices themselves are multi-use facilities that house everything from athletic events to, arts programs, and food drives.
At a time when resources are dwindling and people are feeling evermore desperate the church is there, much like Noah’s arc to provide shelter, resource, and yes,education. First responders when a region is hit by natural disaster are often religious groups with enough size to offer temporary food and housing for those displaced. Whatever your view of these religious campuses, their practical value to dispersed rural area is undeniable.
So what does this mean exactly, that churches will become America’s default institutions of social progress? Perhaps some of them will. From a business perspective a church is a fund pool that allows for stakeholders to contribute to a communal pot. Churches often offer low interest loans, scholarships, and even subsidized higher learning. But in order for a church to do serve these functions they have to be BIG.
The city of Detroit recently rejected the proposal of the Greater Grace Temple to turn a 120 acre former golf course into a cemetery. And since the baby boomer generation will be dyeing in the next 20 to 3o years this would be a wise investment.
Consider the economic impact that this development would have, the jobs that would be created as a result of this project, though not enough to save Detroit, would be significant in the short term. Since our beliefs are embedded in just about everything we do, could there be better place to stash the 15%-20% of your savings that you might be consider tossing at the broken stock market or in deceptive bank. The answer is clear.
The Hartford Institute for Religious Research maintains a data base of mega churches and clock some with congregation size in the tens of thousands, this is the staff size of some fortune 500 companies. With this out look on large religious institutions we see how much power they yield and whether that influence could some how be misused. It is not a far cry to the connection between fundamentalist christian organizations, and big box retailers like Wal-Mart. The church may not be the only place people rely on in times of desperation, but at lease with faith, there is some form of choice, maybe. Anywhere masses of people gather carries an intense amount of political and economic influence and it is hard to say what the leaders of these organizations are doing with that influence on the other six days of the week.
We must take a serious look at this and seek to understand where the balance lies. For as much good as American churches can do, they have an incredible amount of power to change the landscape, (literally) of our nation and where it heads. It is not a simple analysis as religion and spirituality are integral parts of the human experience but also not the only consideration to be made when planning for our future.
For a more global view read Clifton L. Holland’s research paper on Evangelical Mega-Church Phenomenon in Central America.