Forerunner, "WorldWatch," November 2003

European Economics

» A new report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PwC), the world's largest financial services firm, projects that the Eurozone economy could grow faster than the U.S. by 2010. PwC's European Economic Outlook concludes that although growth in the Eurozone is likely to remain sluggish in the next two years, there is "the potential to achieve faster GDP per capita growth than the U.S. over the rest of this decade." But there are two catches: First, "this can only happen if the Euroland countries make effective reforms in areas such as pensions and labor markets." Second, for the Eurozone to outpace the U.S., the U.S. also has to experience economic instability itself. In essence, PwC is predicting what it would take for the balance of economic power to tip in Europe's favor: a restructuring of the EU, and a steady decline, turmoil, or other instability to weaken the U.S.

» This year, Germany, long considered the economic leader of the EU, has had a polarized selection of economic news. In August, it became the world's leading export country, surpassing the U.S. with exports 7% higher than America's, according to the FinancialTimes Deutschland. With $62 billion in exports, Germany's share of world exports is now higher than 10% for the first time in several years. The German economy has benefited from growth in Eastern and Central Europe, boosting demand for German goods, especially food and machinery. Germany now exports more to Eastern Europe than it does to the U.S. In October, however, the German government admitted that the country is experiencing zero growth and that deficit spending for 2003 would exceed ?40 billion ($51.3 billion), a far higher figure than the original ?18.9 billion government forecast. Even with its impressive export figures, Germany is still consuming much of what it brings in and spending a significant portion of it to support a jobless population approaching 4.5 million. Even though the PwC forecast, overall, concluded that the U.S. would have to weaken for the EU economy to rise, Germany's economic recovery is, in the short term, dependent upon a strong U.S. economy.

Religion in America

» According to Forbes, many churches are not very different from corporations anymore. In many instances, pastors act as chief executives and use business tactics to enlarge their congregations. This entrepreneurial approach has contributed to the explosive growth of U.S. megachurches—defined as local, non-Catholic churches with at least 2,000 members. For instance, World Changers Ministries of College Park, Georgia, operates a music studio, a publishing house, and a computer graphic design suite, while owning its own record label. It boasts a total weekend attendance of over 23,000. Lakewood Church, which recently leased the Compaq Center, former home of the NBA's Houston Rockets, has a four-record deal and spends $12 million annually on television airtime. It tops the list with over 25,000 members at its Houston campus.

In 1970, there were just ten such churches, according to John Vaughn, founder of Church Growth Today, which tracks megachurches. In 1990, 250 fit that description. Today, there are 740, with a total membership of about 4 million and an average attendance of 3,646 each, according to Vaughn. The average net income of megachurches is estimated at $4.8 million. Among these churches, there is obviously a tremendous emphasis on material growth, and church leaders take this to mean that God is pleased with them. "In our society growth equals success," says Scott Thumma, faculty associate at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. "And religious growth not only equals success but also God's blessing on the ministry."

» A new study from the Barna Research Group of Ventura, California, shows that even with the onslaught of secular humanism, postmodernism, and multiculturalism, most people have retained mainstream Christian views about life after death. For example, 81% of Americans believe in an afterlife of some sort, and almost the same number (79%) believes in the immortality of the soul. In all, 76% believe that Heaven exists, while nearly the same proportion said there is a Hell (71%)—although it is significant that more people believe in Heaven than in Hell. Of those who believe in Heaven, 46% say it is "a state of eternal existence in God's presence"; 30% say it is "an actual place of rest and reward where souls go after death"; and the remainder believe that Heaven is just "symbolic" (14%), that there is no such thing as life after death (5%), or that they are not sure (5%). Peoples' view of their post-life destination is very revealing of the effect of mainstream Christianity: Just one-half of 1% expect to go to Hell upon their death, while nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) believe they will go to Heaven. One in 20 adults (5%) claim they will come back as another life form, while the same proportion (5%) contend they will simply cease to exist. The remainder admitted that they have "no idea" what will happen after they die.