In Superman’s backstory, his father Jor-El tries to warn the leaders of the doomed planet of Krypton that disaster is imminent. They refuse to believe him and will not allow him to warn the populace. The only thing he can do before the planet explodes is save his son Kal-El by launching him on a rocket ship, which ultimately lands on Earth. Kal-El, of course, grows up to be Superman. Those who refuse to listen on Krypton perish.

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the Ministry of Magic refuses to believe that Voldemort has actually returned, despite the impassioned pleas of Harry and Dumbledore. They are so horrified by the possibility that Harry and Dumbledore might be right that they choose to ignore their warnings. In fact, they hatch an elaborate smear campaign to discredit Harry’s story and eventually plot to take over Hogwarts. In the end, of course, they realize the error of their ways. But by that point, it’s too late and people suffer.

Both of these narratives capture an unfortunate reality that plays out far too often: we would rather deny dire warnings and pretend that everything is going to be okay. We see it in relationships, our health, institutions of all kinds, governments, and the environment.

In my context, I can’t help but think about the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the crossroads we find ourselves at. Our denomination is fading quicker than most are willing to admit. Many would rather hold on to fleeting signs of hope, legitimate examples of vitality, or delusions of relevance rather than face the facts and do something radically different to make changes.

Soon, there may not be much we can do to avoid the inevitable.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. I agree that denial factors in. But the larger issues are ones that do not have any easy answers. The primary ones being money and property.

    It is becoming apparent to me that the future financial sustainability of all non-profit organizations is questionable. This year has been the worst year that I’ve seen in 30+ years of involvement with churches, non-profits and fund raising campaigns. I’m coming to the conclusion that our assumption about the importance of the deductibility of non-profit and church donations as a solid reason for people to give is no longer viable. Cash in hand means more than a tax deduction.

    I’m involved with an environmental non-profit that is changing its status to a for-profit so it can generate the income it needs to fund its scientific endeavors. It is a different mindset.

    I’m wondering when churches need to begin to think creatively like this. To do so would mean establishing a for-profit organization, a foundation that receives a funds from the for-proft, and then transfers it to the church. A group of local churches could join together to do this. The question that I’m sure you are asking is “what is the for-profit selling to generate income?” It could be a number of things related to property that is currently not well utilized by churches. If this makes any sense, then first step is to bring a lawyer into the discussion because it is a more complex arrangement that what most of us have worked with in the past.

    There a lot of people in denial about where the denomination is headed. But it is also true that in most presbyteries there are people who are aware and are talking about this. Let’s see how we can broaden the conversation to include more people.

    • Ed, this is VERY interesting to me. As you can see in a sermon I posted this week (“Into the Deep“), I am actively noodling with the idea of a church based around a BBQ restaurant (and, not mentioned, a community garden and blues club). I am fascinated by the idea of creating a business that would contribute to local economies (much needed in many Chicago neighborhoods) and support a faith community.

      Do you know of research or writing that supports your statements here about fundraising in non-profits and conversion to for-profit? Fascinating.

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