Are We in the "New Normal"?

by J. David Schmidt, J. David Schmidt & Associates
(Originally published as a post within ECCU’s former e-publication, The Buzz.)

In an article titled “The New Normal,” written last November when the nation’s financial system was imploding, ECCU President/CEO Mark G. Holbrook asked “What will our financial system look like when the dust settles?” Are we in that new normal?

These days, determining the state of our economy can be a real challenge. The green shoots of economic stability are trying to poke through the debris of that disastrous downturn. We hear the word recovery but sense ongoing consumer caution and mixed messages from Wall Street to Main Street. If we are gaining traction in this economy, it is hard to sense how much and in what direction. So you might say the new normal is arriving, but what will ultimately be the operating environment for our churches and organizations in the future?

In the just-released study of 997 organizations that my company (J. David Schmidt & Associates) conducted in partnership with Christian Leadership Alliance, we probed how leaders of churches and organizations think the future will unfold. Their responses constitute a sober-minded view indeed. Consider this sampling:

Which reflects your point of view regarding the current circumstances of our economy and the scenario you believe will unfold? Percentage Who Said This
This recession is unique and has caused permanent economic damage. We are entering an undefined “new normal.” 32%
We are in a typical recession; we’ll be out of it in a year or so and will return to “normal” economic growth. 31%
We are in a deep and long-sustained recession that will last years before returning to “normal” economic growth. 27%
We are entering a global decline and a decade or more of economic malaise: negligible or no economic growth and a long climb back to “normal.” 8%
We are in an economic downturn, but are rebounding. “Normal” economic growth will return within months or sooner. 3%
The economy is strong and there is no real downturn. 0%

Only about a third (31 percent) of those surveyed believe we are in a typical recession. When you combine the 32 percent who believe we are entering an undefined new normal with those who believe we are in a deep and long-sustained recession plus those who feel we are entering a global decline, the result is 67 percent of those surveyed share a rather sober view of the future. This “new normal” opinion is held by respondents of all ages and from every sector in the church and parachurch world.

So how would you answer?

And what if this majority point of view turns out to be true? How will your church or organization live out its mission in this more challenging environment? What are those two or three strategic moves you need to make to remain viable?

If you and your organization haven’t settled on a likely scenario for the future, set aside some time in your next leadership or board meeting to do so. (You can use the descriptions in the chart above to guide the discussion.) Why?

  • Because how we perceive the emerging future matters. The more negative our view, the more it tends to blunt our risk-taking capacity and the urgency we feel to innovate—two vital dimensions of how we express our faith in God. If fear stops us from taking new territory, then the world’s economy is taking precedence over God’s economy. Holding the two in tension is key—being in this world but not of it.

  • Because the Bible says (1 Chronicles 12:32) that the men of Issachar, “…understood the times and knew what Israel should do…” This discernment of the cultural moment is key to remaining relevant and effective.

While we can’t predict the future, preparing for it—even if we are wrong—better positions our organizations for God to use us.

To learn more, download the executive summary of the research referenced in this article. A copy of the full research report (sent as a PDF download) is available for $19.95 to ECCU ministry members by virtue of their CLA Affinity Membership. Cost for non-members is $39.95. You may purchase the full report online at www.christianleadershipalliance.org.

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