For example, I'm familiar with one Catholic diocese where twenty years ago practically all the work was done by the priests and nuns. Now the number of priests is down 50 percent and nuns down by 80 percent. Yet the diocese has doubled its activities, because it now has two to three thousand people who give at least three hours of work each week. They do everything except dispense the Sacraments. They are basically running the diocese.
That's perhaps on the fast side of growth, but in the evangelical churches you also see the same phenomenon. I have been trying to figure out how many people give at least three hours a week just to the 10,000 churches with Sunday attendance of more than 1,000. It's a staggering number.
How do you explain this growth?
Two ways. One is a demand answer; one is a supply answer.
The demand answer is simple. There are so many young, educated people who are struggling with ambition and isolation. They come out of a blue-collar background or a farm background and find themselves working in the jungle of Los Angeles or Cincinnati. They need something to offset that intensely competitive, high-pressure, high-stress environment. They need something that they may not be conscious of, but something that restores balance and sanity. They need community.
On the supply side, more and more churches are what I call "pastoral churches." Their purpose is not to perpetuate a particular liturgy or maintain an existing institutional form. Instead, they're asking what my business friends would call the marketing question: "Who are the customers, and what's of value to them?" They're more interested in the pastoral question ("What do these people need that we can supply?") than in the theological nuances ("How can we preserve our distinctive doctrines?").
These churches are growing partly because the younger people need pastoring and not just preaching, and partly because, very bluntly, people are dreadfully bored with theology. They can't appreciate the subtleties. And I sympathize with them. I taught religion; I didn't teach theology. I've always felt that quite clearly the good Lord loves diversity. He created 2,500 species of flies. If he had been like some theologians I know, there would have been only one right specie of fly. But there are 2,500!
Pastoral churches appreciate the importance of diversity.
You mentioned that nonprofits don't have a conventional "bottom line." What then is the gauge of their effectiveness?
All nonprofits have one essential product: a changed human being. This is a different approach from business. In business, your goal is not to change the customer; it's not to educate the customer; it's to satisfy the customer. Whenever a business forgets that, it's in trouble. When GM tried to tell us what cars we ought to drive, we began to drive Toyotas.
But nonprofits aim for change. Hospitals seek to change sick patients into healthy ones. Schools aim to change students into educated individuals.
And churches . . . ?
The church has a difficult problem in that the books are not kept on this side. So far even Congress hasn't been able to force an audit of those accounts.
But I would say the church's aim is to make a difference in the way the parishioner lives, to change the parishioner's values-into God's values.