Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master's thesis -- golly -- about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don't expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can't get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there's no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don't lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.

Economics of City Ministry

A quick #sustainministry follow-on. Is it little wonder that there's so much wishful and whistful thinking about having monasteries "somewhere"? It's easy to picture some small, leafy town. Easier certainly that imagining the same in a leafy stretch of Greenwich Village.

Considering the high cost of living and property -- purchased or rental -- and the cultural and community alternatives found in the large coastal cities, and the high rates of practical secularism, what kind of future is there for churches?

I once read (not long ago) that once a church or synagogue is demolished in New York it is almost impossible to replace it elsewhere. That is, the peak number of houses of worship has past. I would believe the same is true for the District of Columbia. Perhaps that's fine. But does it imply that we have as many churches as we will ever have in these same coastal cities. And that's remembering that much of the denominational growth was in the post-WWII housing boom outside those cities. Even with alternative modes of ministry, it's not hard to imagine that cities will be a special challenge.

Just getting that off my chest.