The Coming Crisis – and What We Can do Today to Avert it

I recently read a story  which was linked from a blog post on New Advent

While this story is disturbing, I am glad I saw it.  If you have a role in stewardship, development, or philanthropy, you might want to look at it yourself.

There are three sentences from that story that cause me great concern.  The first is this one:  “By 2016, just over half — 53% — of Americans gave money to charity, down from 66% in 2000.”

That 13 point drop is a 20% decrease in the number of people who are willing to support the work of non-profit organizations.

Then …

“While religious groups still received the largest chunk of charitable dollars in 2018, at 29% of total giving, it was the first year that giving to religion fell below 30% of overall giving, according to the Giving USA annual report on philanthropy, now in its 64th year.”

There are fewer donors giving less money.  The pie is shrinking.

Finally …

“…Americans are becoming less likely to attend religious services or identify with a specific religion.”

Church attendance is “the single most reliable indicator of an individual’s level of charitable giving.” (Gaudiani, Claire, “The Greater Good” p.167)

That’s ALL charitable giving, not just to the Church. 

Let’s summarize this.

  1. Church attendance is the primary metric for charitable giving.
  2. Fewer people are going to church.
  3. There are 20% fewer people giving to charities than there were just a few years ago.
  4. Religious giving is becoming a smaller part of all charitable giving.

Fewer people giving less money to fewer charities, and churches are not holding their own.  What could possibly go wrong?

We are fighting the battle uphill.  The culture is definitely arrayed against the faithful.  As we continue to see the number of people in the pews decline, it will be harder and harder to pay for the services, the programs, the sacramental and pastoral care that we have come to expect of the Church.

Today Baby Boomers control most of the money in the economy.  In fact, it is the wealthiest generation in American history.  CNBC reported in 2018 that   there are 45 million households that will transfer $68 trillion in wealth over the next 25 years. 

In great numbers, children of the Boomers – Generation X, Y (Millennials), and Z, “Next Gen” – are no longer attending Mass or believing in the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. For a host of reasons, many are disassociating themselves from the faith entirely.  They are the “Nones”, as in they have no affiliation with the Church.  As such, the money being transferred from Boomers to Next Gen is never going to fund the works of the Church.

Worse yet for them, those who profess to be Nones are not participating in the fullness of the Eucharist, which is “the source and summit of Christian life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1334) They are missing out on Jesus Christ Himself.

Want to hear genuinely heartbreaking stories? Ask a group of Baby Boomer Catholics how many of their children attend Mass. 

That pain is exacerbated when we realize what is about to happen.  Because so many are not attending Mass or seeing the benefit of being in full communion with the Church, Next Gen members will use their inheritance elsewhere, meaning it is unlikely that those funds will ever again be the dependable and continuing source of Church income, funding the sacramental and pastoral works of the Church, that they are today. 

This all seems pretty bleak, doesn’t it?

At the end of the Te Deum, we pray “In you, Lord, is our hope, and we shall never hope in vain.”

There is, in fact, great hope. 

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and bloodhas not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16: 15-18)

As people of faith, we can be certain that the Church will survive this attack, because Jesus, who is still the head of the Church, told us so.

There is much that we can do, however, to assist in our defense.

Our first and most important task is to evangelize.  We must invite those who have left the Church to come back. We must also invite those who have never known the Church to join us and know the Lord.

Evangelization is the responsibility of every one of us.  It is like planting seeds, and it is likely going to be a long time before the fruits of those plants can be harvested.

Between then and now, however, those of us who are Baby Boomers can help ensure the funding of the Church even when we are gone.

Pope Francis once quoted his grandmother when she said “Burial shrouds have no pockets.”  We can’t take it with us, but we can determine who gets it.

Through the use of simple, inexpensive – or free – means of determining who gets what at our passing, Boomers can fund the works of the Church for the next generation.  This does not mean abandoning our children, either. 

If we were to leave just 10% of our estates to the Church, it would make an enormous difference in providing the funding for the sacramental and pastoral needs of generations to come. 

Adding the Church as a beneficiary to bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance, annuities, and our wills and trusts are all relatively easy to do. We will soon be providing more information about ways you can make this happen.  In the meantime, visit with your attorney about changes to your estate plan.

The problem is real.  However, the solution does not require any permission from Church officials, governments, or any kind of authority.  All it takes is the will to get it done.

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