By Mike Coyner
Hindsight is always 20/20 they say, but I want to try my hand at some foresight for the year 2020. I am choosing that year because it is beyond my own tenure as bishop, and because we all hope for 20/20 vision. Here is what I anticipate our world will be like in 2020 in the United States and for our United Methodist Church:
- We will all be paying higher taxes and government fees. In spite of all the rhetoric by politicians of all parties, the costs of government and government services keep rising, so we will all be paying higher taxes and fees. Even if our actual tax rates don’t increase much, undoubtedly there will be higher taxes through “reform” which eliminates various deductions and loopholes. Even more likely, we will pay more and more “fees for services ” (they won’t call them “taxes”) by our government at all levels. There are just too many costs to be covered by the current tax and fee structures – so be prepared for taxes and fees to go up – a lot.
- The rising tide of debt for the U.S. will bring about a severe reduction in the ability of individual citizens to borrow money. Be prepared to save your money for purchases of any size, because the government debt will consume almost all of the debt service in the U.S. Borrowing money will be difficult, costly, and reserved only for those who can prove they will repay that money quickly.
- Households will be 2-, 3-, and even 4-income households. Much like the multi-generational family farms of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, more and more households will be multi-generational or multi-family in order to share expenses. Very few families will live in one-income single dwellings. More people will live under one roof to share costs. We already see that trend in the rise of senior living centers, which are really multiple family dwellings for shared costs. Perhaps many of the huge homes built during the dot.com bubble of the 1990’s will be converted into multi-generational homes (not a bunch of apartments, but households who live together by choice).
- Large box stores and small boutique stores will survive, and that will be a model for all institutions. People will still want large institutions for entertainment, convenience, and reduced costs – but they will also seek out the smaller, nearby, focused institution to meet specific needs when they are dissatisfied with large and generic products/services.
- The final verdict will be in for the Baby Boomer Generation. Right now the Baby Boomer Generation (of which I am a part) appears to be the “Worst American Generation.” Unlike the Greatest Generation who worked and sacrificed to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression and fought to defeat Nazism in WW II, our Baby Boomer Generation has been characterized by selfishness, immaturity, brokenness, and immorality. Perhaps as our generation moves into retirement, we will focus upon leaving a legacy of compassion and generosity. By 2020, we will have that verdict, and it will have a huge impact upon future generations and the sustainability of our institutions and structures.
- Our society will be increasingly diverse, inclusive, and yet will be characterized by segregation by choice. Such segregation will not be based upon race, color, ethnicity, or similar false divisions but upon people’s networks of mutual interest. People will live, work, and gather in patterns that are diverse and inclusive, but clearly divided by choice.
- Health care quality will decrease dramatically as millions of previously uninsured persons enter a system which does not have the capacity to provide for those numbers. The result, at least initially, will be a shortage of family physicians so that most of us will see other medical assistants and personnel. More troubling will be the lack of availability for surgeries and procedures of “choice” or “prevention” due to the lack of resources to provide for everyone. Unfortunately this may result in a two-tiered health care system whereby those who can afford to purchase additional medical care will do so, and they will avoid the government-run and government-determined health care systems that the rest of the population must use.
- The use of the internet and social media will continue to expand, but alongside it will come an increasing hunger for closer friendships. Most people will have hundreds of “contacts” in their social media, but very few friends. Those groups and institutions will thrive who can offer both anonymous large-group experiences and also small group closeness.
- Large-scale entertainment will continue to increase, but so will the at-home access to entertainment. Given the other trends listed above, people may gather to watch entertainment in smaller groupings that provide “closeness” and “relationship” even while enjoying mega events.
- Finally the Church will have to adapt to these trends. Mega-churches will thrive only if they solve the “succession” issues that plague such large congregations (like the Crystal Cathedral). Small congregations and house churches will thrive (perhaps in partnerships with mega-churches) if they focus upon relationships, deepening of faith, and lay ministry – rather than focusing upon keeping old buildings open and paying most of their budgets for full-time clergy. Middle-sized congregations will face the largest challenges, but they will thrive if they focus upon helping people engage in meaningful mission to others and personal spiritual growth for themselves. Denominations will continue to exist to the extent that they provide “value added” services for their congregations in terms of coaching, connecting, encouraging, and challenging their constituents – which can only happen if the leadership of denominations is trusted and earns that trust.
Those are my 20/20 predictions. What do you predict ? By the way, my next E-pistle will share some new trends that I hope will happen (not necessarily predictions).