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Walkable Church

In the near future…

Church attendance will drop dramatically.

Churches won’t be able to cool or heat their Family Life Centers and sanctuaries.

Church staffs and programs will be cut.

Many churches may have to close.

The most critical issue for Christians in the next 5 to 10 years won’t be evangelism or discipleship or worship. It will be a lack of energy – energy that cools buildings and heats staff offices. Energy that fuels cars that sit in church parking lots. We simply won’t be able to do church the way we’re currently doing it. The most “spiritual” issue for us in the next few years will be the “peak oil” phenomenon (an energy scarcity this country has never seen). In fact, if you Google the phrase“peak oil,” you will get 8,680,000 hits! It’s a big deal.

The Church in America will run out of cheap and recoverable oil along with the rest of the world. We have used up one-half the world’s oil reserves. We have reached the peak of oil production and the remaining fossil fuel reserves are going to be much more difficult (and expensive) to extract: There will come a point where energy giants won’t be able to extract the remaining reserves simply because the cost to extract outstrips profits gained. Of course this cost to do business gets passed on to the consumer (families and churches) in the form of catastrophic prices at the fuel pump and at the electric meter on the side of your house. Coal and natural gas are on a similar decline, and no combination of “alternative fuels” will be able to give us the scale of cheap energy we are used to. No matter what we do – and we should do something now – we may likely see a pre-industrial America and be forced to live on far, far less than we’re used to. We will have to walk. It won’t be an option.

The ride is over

The cheap oil glut over the last century, and the lifestyle it built for us, was a one-time ride; an unusually prosperous blip on the world history timeline. The Church, as we will see, has enjoyed this ride just like everyone else.

The ride is over.

This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse Bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global “Peak Oil.” – from the website: Life After the Oil Crash.

It only takes a slight disruption

It only takes slight disruptions in supply to trigger economic avalanches. Matt Savinar (Life After the Oil Crash.net) says even slight downturns in oil supplies are similar to dehydration in the human body:

The human body is 70 percent water. The body of a 200 pound man thus holds 140 pounds of water. Because water is so crucial to everything the human body does, the man doesn’t need to lose all 140 pounds of water weight before collapsing from dehydration. A loss of as little as 10-15 pounds of water may be enough to kill him.

Here’s how that works out: Savinar points out that a conservative estimate puts yearly oil production decline at 3 percent. Estimates of 8 percent, even 10-13 percent, have been predicted. You’ll recall the 1970’s oil crisis and the long lines at the pump? Oil prices nearly quadrupled from a mere 5 percent decline in production. Andrew Gould, CEO of the mammoth oil services firm Schlumberger, says that a yearly production drop of 8 percent is not unreasonable. If a 5 percent decline caused a tripling of prices during 1970’s oil crisis, what will an 8 percent, or 10 percent drop do to prices – especially since world population and oil consumption has increased significantly since the 1970s. How we will be able to fill our car’s fuel tanks will be only one of an entire package of concerns we will soon be facing.

You may not be driving to church, or anywhere, soon.

Suburbia and the suburban church doesn’t work without cheap oil. How will you operate your car without cheap gas, or no gas, at some point? How will you get to work? To church? You’ll have to live much closer to your children’s schools – that is, if schools can afford to heat and cool their cavern-ness buildings. If you’re used to driving to church, how will that change? (Remember the oil crisis of the 1970s?) In our present-future, the crisis won’t end; and in fact, will unravel our consumptive way of life as we know it.

Jim Kunstler (The Long Emergency) reveals a soon-coming reality: “This [car-crazed culture] will change radically. There will be far less motoring. The future will be more about staying where you are than traveling incessantly from place to place, as we do now.” Life will become increasingly hyper-local – lived right where you are. Get on your walking shoes.

Becoming a walkable Church

Bottom line: We have to find a way of driving less and walking more. We will need to walk to everything, including church – but not to institutional, organized churches that meet in buildings. Those facilities are black holes for energy consumption and won’t fair well in the coming energy storm. Small, organic, naturally organizing fellowships are what we need. In other words, we’ll live out our faith hyper-locally – walking to those places where we connect with others – in homes, coffeehouses, parks, or wherever two or more are gathered. In other words, biblical community will return to its organic roots, gathering where people live their lives – in our homes, businesses, and meeting places. Rather than sacred institutional warehouses that demand that people come to them for spiritual input, the Church will need to decentralize itself, becoming more incarnational, grassroots and among the people. Isn’t this what Jesus did?

This is why organic church is the way into the future: Organic church means you can still be the Church when you can no longer drive to church.

Jim Robbins writes about sustainability issues as it relates to the church. You can read more about Jim’s book on sustainable Church at his storefront. You can also find more articles and information on his blog .

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