ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–While the media is strangely silent about the i-word, economists know that when a government starts printing paper money like there is no tomorrow, inflation will accelerate. If the economy doesn’t inflate, it may spiral into deflatation. According to Elliot Wave International, a market forecasting firm, if inflation is a quiet thief, then deflation is an armed burglar.
The promised money for bank bailouts, industrial rescues, health-care initiatives and infrastructure rebuilding must come from somewhere. True to form, the Washington approach is to throw money at a problem, and if there isn’t enough money in the treasury, print more currency because the total sum of American assets exceeds the amount of dollars that can be printed.
When a nation opens up the treasury to dramatically expand the money supply and engage in soaring deficit spending, a time of hyperinflation usually follows. Before his untimely death, the economic prophet Larry Burkett called it an “economic earthquake.”
Burkett experienced the last year of the Carter administration with soaring interest rates, double-digit inflation, high unemployment and stagnant American industry, but the nation’s leadership changed and principled economic policies brought two decades of unparalleled prosperity.
According to Burkett, economies are cyclical. After a period of time, people conveniently forget the principles, and now once again Americans find themselves in a time of economic trouble. To quote the venerable Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Currently, the inflation indexes do not show that the horse is out of the barn yet. So now is the time for churches and church-related organizations to prepare for either a time of inflation or a time of deflation. Here are some important actions for churches or church-related ministries to consider:
1) Keep in mind that the Gospel message is the same in good times and tough times. Just because Americans have experienced unparalleled prosperity doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has. Yet the message of the Gospel is flourishing in many corners of the world. In other words, the work of the Kingdom of God does not depend on a particular nation’s economy. The Kingdom of God transcends nations, presidents and potentates. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
2) Christian leaders must perpetually take their methods to the cross. While the Gospel is the unchanging message, methods for sharing the Gospel must adapt with changing times. While there is great latitude for creativity, methods must not violate Scripture. It is a good thing for every church and church organization to periodically take everything it does and place it on the altar. If members and staff have released ownership of the church’s ministries, such action makes any necessary changes much smoother because the church and its ministries belong to the Lord, even its methods.
3) As you study methods, maintain a Kingdom perspective. Sometimes people forget that church work does not revolve around their preferences but about what matters most for the Kingdom. No church is its own kingdom. Every church is part of God’s Kingdom on a mission to reach their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. One healthy practice is the 80/20 principle: Especially in times of economic downturn, devoting at least 20 percent of your church’s giving to mission work outside your church, thus helping maintain the church’s priorities of reaching the world for Christ. Make sure that evangelistic outreach ministries are given a greater priority than maintaining facilities. Churches exist to win the lost and disciple believers, not merely maintain edifices.
4) Engage people from every level of the organization in the process of evaluation and implementation of austerity processes. Collective spiritual intelligence is vital for an organization facing an economic downturn. Some of the best ideas are not from the board room but from the break room. Value every idea as important as every person is to your organization.
5) Communicate, communicate, communicate. Over-communicate to the people in your organization about the processes involved in addressing economic problems. The last thing church or ministry leaders need to do is surprise their constituency. Openness is the mark of a mature, confident leader who has nothing to hide. Several Southern Baptist ministries that rely so heavily on investment income have already met with their staff and faculty members to communicate the special challenges facing their ministries due to losses on the stock market. Churches would be wise to use a similar method to talk about the potential impact of an economic downturn.
6) Evaluate each method and seek to ruthlessly eliminate duplication. Place everything under the microscope of effectiveness and efficiency for the sake of the Gospel. No church or ministry can afford duplication of costs. Years ago many Southern Baptist churches had a separate set of financial books for every Sunday School class. Eventually churches discovered that greater effectiveness and accountability were achieved through a unified budget plan. This is the same kind of strategy churches and ministries use when they get rid of all the little ink jet printers and go to one centralized copier/scanner/printer. This is the same kind of decision process state conventions are using to streamline the effectiveness and efficiency of their methods. Some are launching new ways of relating to associations and employing new communicating methods for the sake of maximizing every mission dollar.
7) Drill down into your organization’s financial structure and evaluate emergency reserves, debt management, missions and obligations. How prepared is your organization for difficult economic times? Have you considered your Southern Baptist missionaries who are dependent on your church’s faithfulness to the Cooperative Program during an economic slowdown? There are voices among even Southern Baptists heralding a return to society missions where every missionary raises direct support from our churches. Some of that thinking is rampant among churches that have participated in volunteer mission projects. Effective short-term mission projects need the long-term mission strategist to maximize effectiveness in reaching a people group with the Gospel. There is no need to cut one to fund the other. It may mean we must become better managers of the resources God has entrusted to our care. During hard times, we need to look beyond ourselves and discover God’s purposes for His resources.
8) Establish an initiative to train people with principles of biblical stewardship. During these times, people need to know how to not only survive the current crisis but how to be faithful money managers throughout their lives. There are several small group programs churches can use to help people make prudent, positive financial decisions.
A friend of mine was a championship bull rider. He said it wasn’t hard to sit on a bull until they opened the gate. Then you better hang on because your life depended on it.
Inflation (or its uglier relative, deflation) isn’t out of the gate yet. However, the indicators are there to show us that the next few quarters could be rough. We pray that rate of inflation isn’t too extreme. But we do need to take some systemic steps toward preparation.
John L. Yeats is director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.