From the October 26 Rocky Mountain News:
[O]ut of public view, a new generation of executives is laying the groundwork for sustaining the conservative Christian group as a cultural and political force once the 71-year-old Dobson has left the scene. And most of their efforts are concentrated not in the political realm, but in finding new ways to deliver marriage and parenting advice to a younger generation of families, many of whom distrust institutions or dislike evangelical engagement in politics.
[Focus on the Family president Jim] Daly emphasized that Focus on the Family is not backing off its public policy work, and he said the renewed emphasis on relationships is not meant to blunt criticism that the group is too political.
But if the goal is to reach younger adults, downplaying politics might be wise. The Christian polling firm Barna Group found this year that nearly half of born-again Christians between 16 and 29 believe conservative Christian political involvement poses a problem for America.
Corwin Smidt, director of the Henry Institute for he Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., said Focus on the Family in the post-Dobson era will likely struggle to mobilize people politically. Smidt said developing niche products might give people what they want, but it also makes it harder to unite people around a political cause.
Already, Focus on the Family is discovering the financial implications of attracting a younger crowd. Maegdlin said that in the last year the organization has identified about 280,000 people who have been exposed to Focus on the Family for the first time through the Internet but haven’t donated.
The total number of donors has declined from 755,000 in 2004 to 564,000 as of last month, ministry officials said. Supporters are giving more money more often, but the overall numbers are still down: Focus on the Family brought in $132.5 million in donations in the fiscal year ending in September 2004 compared to $130.8 million this year, officials said.
Although the shift in focus being contemplated by the successors to Dobson’s empire appears to only be one of degree, it sheds new light on the increasing alarmism James Dobson has displayed in recent months. If the religious right cannot find ways to stem the disillusionment of younger evangelicals , its time as a dominant political force may be near an end.
Whether these proposed changes will have any impact Love Won Out or Focus on the Family’s role in Exodus’ ad campaigns remains to be seen.