The upside of inflation
Why churches need to choose generosity amidst financial uncertainty.
Inflation has been a documented economic phenomenon since Ancient Rome, but it has not been much of a factor in the global economy over the last decade. Now, however, with Covid-induced labor shortages and “supply chain snarls,” along with loose monetary policy from central banks looking to prop up national economies, inflation has stepped back onto the world stage in major fashion.
In March, Canada reported a 6.7% year-over-year increase in the overall price of goods and services, hitting a 30-year high. The United States, posting a 7.9% increase in February, is seeing its highest levels of inflation since the early 1980’s. Inflation would not be a concern if paychecks could keep pace, but prices for everything from housing to butter tend to rise at a more rapid clip than wages. Inflation was on the rise well before February 2022, but the biggest European conflict since World War II has put tremendous upward pressure on commodities, particularly gasoline.
Rising to the challenge
For churches, inflationary periods also increase the cost of doing ministry. From an administrative perspective, churches will have to plan for higher prices for supplies and energy, as well as “cost of living adjustments” to staff salaries. This same logic applies to any outreach efforts that involve significant financial expenditures. Late last year, the CBC reported on St. John’s Anglican Church in London, Ont., which has been providing weekly meals for their community for twenty years. Rising food prices have simultaneously increased both the necessity of this ministry and the difficulty of maintaining it – although, remarkably, St. John’s has so far been able to hit its fundraising goals to keep the weekly meals going.
There is, in fact, precedence for Canadian believers giving generously enough to outpace inflation. Back in 1982, the United Press reported that Canadian inflation for the previous year had reached 12.5%, a staggering figure by our contemporary standards. During that same year, however, per capita giving in ten Canadian denominations rose by 13.5%. At the same time, it is unrealistic to expect such an uptick in giving as parishioners, particularly those with lower incomes, are forced to make hard choices about allocating their depreciating dollars.
Putting others first
For all the difficulties that churches face in times of inflation, there is real opportunity as well. On a practical level: since inflation will likely intensify the financial struggles many of our parishioners and neighbours face, churches should consider taking a page from St. John’s playbook by providing aid in the form of food and energy assistance, even if this requires trimming back on other parts of the operating budget.
Financial generosity in the face of economic uncertainty is a demonstration of our faith in God’s goodness. Another is taking care to talk about the future with an attitude of hope – not necessarily optimism, but hope. Finances will likely get tighter, but it’s important to remind ourselves regularly that everything is going to turn out alright. Our hope rests not in sound fiscal policy or even in the end of the pandemic, but in the fact that God has already secured a good future for us in Jesus. We now have freedom to reject fear, and to instead channel our emotional and physical energy into loving our neighbours