God's business

According Adele Ferguson in the Business Review Weekly:

Religion is big business in Australia. If it were a corporation, it would be one of the biggest and fastest-growing in the country, accounting for more than $23 billion in revenue in 2005, employing hundreds of thousands of staff (salaried and volunteers) and wielding unsurpassed political and social clout.

Read on. . .

The tone of the article is revealing. It portrays churches as greedy corporations and largely ignores that much of the funds raised go towards education, health and aged care and emergency relief.

The article picks up the rise of the modern Pentecostal movement and its growing financial clout. Some of the larger churches are effectively corporations with turnovers in the millions. There's also a growing trend for Pentecostals to direct their energies into the business and political worlds with increasing success.

Movements begin on the fringe and then move to the centre. Pentecostalism is moving into the cultural mainstream of Australian society. I expect Australian Pentecostalism to continue to grow and adapt much to the dismay of those on the theological and political left. If history repeats itself, eventually we'll have a Pentecostal Prime Minister. Meanwhile the secularized mainstream denominations will barely survive on external life support.

Given a generation or two, success may eventually change the Pentecostal movement. As movements shift into the mainstream they become more rational, conformist and risk adverse. Expect “How to speak in tongues” to lose out to “10 Rules for Business Success”. Expect “How to plant a church” to lose out to “Growing what we've got bigger”. Expect “brother Ted Smith” to become “Rev Dr Edward Smith”.

Plateaued movements have too big a stake in this world to worry about the next. Led by the clergy, they begin to reflect the views of the cultural and social elites.

That's the bad news. The good news is that (1) there are exceptions to this trend and (2) God is in the business of raising up new movements—on the fringe.