Do You Really Think We Have To Dump Everything?

Photo by Courtney Perry (All rights reserved)

So asks Mariann Budde, my friend and the Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. to Wednesday’s post, Why Liberal Christianity (Too Often) Sucks. There were lots of great comments to that post, and some other questions that I hope to answer, but Mariann’s was the most pointed, and it’s one I want to respond to.

At the end of that post, I wrote,

Finally, mainline Christianity is committing suicide, plain and simple. By gathering every summer at their national conventions and killing each other with friendly fire, they are rapidly precipitating their own demise. No one gives a shit about the survival of your denomination.

By “no one,” I don’t mean the people who go to those meetings and fight and argue and vote. Those people care. But they can’t see the forest for the trees. No one back at home cares.

No. One.

So the faster that progressive Protestants can give up on their denominations — like conservative Protestants did 20 years ago — the more likely they can turn things around before it’s too late.

I really do believe what I wrote there. I may be prone to overstatement, but I think that my predictions about the death of progressive Christianity being precipitated, in part, by denominational infighting is profoundly accurate.

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Precipitating the Death of the Mainline

David Henson says, Bring It On!

I do not fear the death of the mainline church.In fact, as a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal church, it excites me, and it is the precipitous decline of the mainline that, in part, draws me to ministry.Death can be a fertile ground for the Gospel. Indeed, it has always been so. The specter of death can make people willing to do things they might otherwise be too comfortable to consider, like that a food pantry does not a social justice ministry make. And death can make people less afraid to fail and, as a result, more apt to try something new, something frivolous, something that won’t bring in moneyed people. It can make us more willing to experiment with creative ways to seek justice and the presence of God in houses outside those in which we worship. Death might just shake us up enough so that we can get out of the pews and on with the work of God!


More Bad News for the (Mainline) Church

I spent some time last week with a group of mainline clergy.  They were truly great people who really wanted to change their churches.  I was speaking about preaching, and they wanted their preaching to be more relevant and contemporary.  But, they reported to me, they are handcuffed.  Their aging congregations simply will not abide change of any kind.

These clergy were in a predicament: their congregations are so small that to lose any of the old-timers virtually ensures closing the doors to the church, but without dramatic changes, the congregations are bound to continue their decline.  The question is, can these clergy both satisfy the elderly members and also reach out to new, younger members?

The answer seems to be no.

Hartford Seminary, an authoritative voice regarding trends in the American Church, has released a study about what happened in the forst decade of the millennium.  The news all around is not good, and it’s particularly bad for the mainline church.  In fact, the report, “A Decade of Change in American Congregations, 2000-2010” (PDF), suggests that the phrase to describe these congregations should be changed to oldline Christianity.

As seen in the above graphs, innovation in worship directly correlates to congregational health and vitality.

White churches in general, and oldline churches particularly are doing a horrible job at keep young adults interested in faith: [Read more…]

Mainline Churches Continue their Decline

File this under, “Same Ol’ Same Ol’.”  The National Council of Churches released their annual yearbook last week and announced that the Catholic Church holds steady, Mormons are on the rise, as are Pentecostals.  And, no surprise, the mainline denominations continue their long, slow fade:

Mainline churches reporting declines in membership are United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.61 percent to 2,770,730 members; the Episcopal Church, down 2.48 percent to 2,006,343 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 members; the American Baptist Churches USA, down 1.55 percent to 1,310,505; the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), down 1.08 percent to 2,312,111 members; and the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members.

via National Council of Churches USA.