Don’t think your ministry can make a difference? Tell that to a couple of businessmen who met in a crowded hotel in 1898 and decided to create an organization dedicated to serving the traveling soul. Now celebrating its 100-year anniversary, the Gideons International, founded by John Nicholson and Sam Hill, has distributed an astounding 1.5 billion Bibles since 1908, when the group began placing Scripture in hotel rooms.
“I think there’s an untold number of people that have had their lives changed as a result of reading the Gideon Bible or New Testament,” said Steve Smith, director of communications and development for the Gideons. “We’ve been blessed to learn the details of many of those and are confident there are still many more we have not yet learned about.” Last year alone the interdenominational ministry gave out nearly 77 million Gideon Scriptures, translated into 85 languages in 187 countries around the world.
“What it’s done is actually changed our culture,” commented Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “People expect there to be a Bible in a hotel room. There’s hardly anything that’s parallel to it.” [AP, 1/1/09; gideons.org, 1/5/09]
QUOTE: “The flood of prophecies for 2009 have begun to come in. They sound remarkably similar to most I have been hearing for the past 15 years. ‘This is the year of revival! This is the year of His power. This is the year of increase! This is the year of harvest!’ … There is a major problem with all of the prophecies about revival to come. It is a religious problem, which Jesus encountered. Religion will get all excited about the Messiah to come but try to kill Him when He is standing in their midst. Why? The Messiah in the future does not demand faith and obedience now! The revival to come does not demand obedience now. We can feel all warm and fuzzy about the wonderful word and clap at what God will do while conveniently forgetting that wherever people are simply obeying Jesus they are seeing the kingdom multiply now.” —Steve Hill, co-founder of worldwide ministry Harvest Now, responding to the numerous prophetic words that typically come at New Year’s [harvest-now.org, 1/4/09]
Three-quarters of the nation’s 335,000 churches are virtually or completely mortgage-free. But for many of those in the minority carrying a loan on their property, what were already tight times—due to decreased giving from financially stretched churchgoers—are quickly becoming tough times.
A recent report by First American CoreLogic discovered that hundreds of churches are facing foreclosure, almost all of which were affected by the mortgage boom in recent years that saw church-issued mortgages increase 50 percent from 2002 to 2005. According to the U.S. Census, spending on church construction rose from $3.8 billion in 1997 to $6.2 billion in 2007. A separate study found that church borrowing as a whole peaked at $28 billion nationwide in 2006, including mortgages, construction loans and church bonds.
“There have been too many churches with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude,” says N. Michael Tangen, executive vice president at American Investors Group, a church lender in Minnetonka, Minn. “They had glory in their eyes that wasn’t backed up with adequate business plans and cash flow.”
Those loaning churches money can attest to the bubble bursting. In its 45-year history, the Evangelical Christian Credit Union in Brea, Calif., had foreclosed on only two churches. This year it has served foreclosure papers to seven of its 2,000 members, and its president says the company expects to add to that number in the coming months. Another church lender, Church Mortgage & Loan Corp. of Maitland, Fla., has already foreclosed on 10 church properties in the past two years and, as a result, had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.
“Some of the mentality that you saw taking hold of the residential marketplace probably shifted into the church,” says Dan Mikes, executive vice president of the church banking division of Bank of the West. “Lenders loaned far too much, they loaned into lofty projections of future growth, and they just saddled the churches with far too much debt.” [wsj.com, 12/23/08; nytimes.com, 12/26/08]
A report from the statistical arm of England’s Bible Society claims that within a generation the number of people attending Church of England services will be a tenth of the current—and already plummeting—amount. Peter Brierley, former executive director of Christian Research, says that based on a “snapshot” church census and an extrapolation of recent church attendance trends, only 87,800 people will be attending Anglican services in 2050 —down from almost 1 million today. Critics say the study is incomplete and doesn’t factor in the growing sector of para-church worship. Many also argue that it’s extremely difficult to form an accurate prediction in such religiously tumultuous times for the country.
Yet the downward trend of England’s longstanding religious establishment is undeniable. “Church attendance has already been in decline for over 60 years, all over Britain, in all major denominations and across all age groups, except the over-65s,” said Keith Porteous-Wood of the National Secular Society. “Independent statisticians now have enough data to predict confidently that the decline will continue until Christianity becomes a minority sect of largely elderly people, in little more than a generation.” [guardian.co.uk, 12/21/08]
Two-thirds of Americans believe religion is losing its influence on daily life in our country, while only 27 percent believe it is gaining ground, according to the latest Gallup poll. That’s a drastic difference from only three years ago, when one out of two people thought religion’s influence on our society was increasing.
Gallup has asked the same question since 1957, and although the current weak image of religion is not as low as it was during the late 1960s and Vietnam War (when 75 percent of Americans thought it was losing influence), it marks one of the lowest times statistically.
Interestingly enough, the shifts in perception about religion have almost always coincided with major political events. One outstanding exception to that were the events on 9/11, which prompted 71 percent of Americans to say religion was on the upswing. Also noteworthy is who believes religion’s influence is sliding: 74 percent of those who said it was losing ground attended church weekly, in contrast to 63 percent who agreed but rarely if ever attend church.
Not surprisingly, the percentage of Americans who believe religion can answer society’s problems is at an all-time low (53 percent). By contrast, 82 percent of Americans in 1957 believed it was the solution. Today, almost 30 percent believe religion is “largely old-fashioned and out of date”—another record since the poll began more than 50 years ago. [gallup.com, 12/23/08]
QUOTE: “What this church is starting with is very on trend with the culture right now and the desire to be very integrated and involved with communities. People are looking for a church that authenticates the Gospel.” —Dave Travis, managing director of Leadership Network, on the “unusual” financial setup of Waterfront Community Church in Schaumburg, Ill. The nondenominational church, which meets in a high school auditorium, relies heavily on service from most of its 200 members, operates on a shoestring budget, and gives 100 percent of its tithes and offerings to those in need in the surrounding community. Waterfront, which just started in October, pays its bills and salaries via eight sponsors, half of whom attend the church. “We started asking around, ‘What are the needs of the community?’” said Waterfront pastor and founder Jim Semradek. “When you present that need to people, they’re very responsive. People have very generous hearts.” [AP, 12/27/08]