Mainline Churches Continue their Decline

Mainline Churches Continue their Decline February 27, 2011

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.

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  • John

    Christianity is being assimilated by nutburgers. Resistance is feudal;-)

  • nathan

    Can anyone answer the question “Why?” without going to the whole “It’s God’s judgement for abandoning the Bible” stuff?

    I’m sure it’s a pretty complex answer…but I’ve never seen or know where to go for some non-ideological analysis.

    Is it true that “evangelicals” are experiencing decline in numbers too if we don’t include “pentecostals”?

    And isn’t the Anglican church growing in the global south?

  • As a UCC pastor, I think that a lot of it has to do with local churches being very slow to adapt to the new cultural reality in which we find ourselves. And it’s something way bigger than video screens in worship or whatever…it’s a failure to recognize that we’re not in the same social place that we were in in the ’50s and ’60s, and thus the same social and organizational mentality no longer addresses what the church needs to be about today. Fortunately, some corners of these denominations have recognized it and there is renewal happening, but we’re still going to lose people and churches along the way.

    The key is that such renewal needs to happen at the local level rather than the national level, which I think my denomination sort of gets, but it also gets in its own way. I imagine there’s a similar thing happening in other mainline churches, too.

  • As a UCC pastor, I would say that we are remarkably successful…at holding onto the 1950s and 1960s. We were the “cool kids” back then. And some people in the UCC want to judge coolness by the same standards from the ’50s and ’60s. But that just isn’t cool any more. Sadly, many of our churches seem frozen in time. There is a resistance to change. In fact, some people are resentful of change since calls for change seems like judgement against the good ol’ days. Many don’t see change as a neeeded adaptation for the sake of the Gospel. Instead, they see change as sign of their own failure. What they need to see is that it isn’t a failure. It worked for a while. It worked quite well. They can and should celebrate their past success. But that same stuff that used to work, doesn’t work now. It’s just like the Model T car. It was awesome at the time. But it’s just not pratical for the modern world today. That doesn’t mean the Model T was a failure. It just means that it served it’s time – and now we’ve moved on to other models of transportation.

    The UCC is generally open to theological change and diversity. But it’s very not open to change in models of worship, governance, polity, design, ministry, etc. To make matters more complicated, we have many established congregations that just don’t want to change any of those models. They would rather slowly die than have a conversational sermon, worship in the round, dump the Roberts Rules of Order, etc. It’s clear that we’re in an emergency situation right now. We’re in the ICU and our prognosis isn’t good.

    I think we need to let those established churches be what they want and focus instead on starting new churches. That’s the secret to the success of the Emergent Church. They’re starting new churches that don’t have 50-200 years of history and tradition to overcome. They can engage in new models of church immediately and successfully. That is what the UCC needs to do, too. The conference ministers need to send all of the young, creative pastors out to start new churches – and support them with money, resources, and training. It’s time for a new church start revolution in the UCC.

    That’s my not-so-humble option, anyway!

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  • That’s pretty accurate for ABC too…

    I’d say the other thing too look at is ordination… Churches that are growing vs. churches in decline… it will tell you something

  • Nixon is Lord

    You are selling something people either don’t want (the Fundiegelicals and the “Churches of Color”) or don’t need (the secular liberals who approve of you, in a general and vague way, but who already have ways to do politics and make copies and rent places to meet).
    Plus you don’t have nearly as many kids as you use to and the kids you do have you tend to lose. With a median age of over 58 (and rising), this is another negative.

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