The Mantra “Conservative Theology Grows Churches” Doesn’t Work Anymore

The Mantra “Conservative Theology Grows Churches” Doesn’t Work Anymore August 11, 2016


Need proof? Just look at the numbers. Mainline Protestant churches are dwindling, while conservative, evangelical churches are growing.

But the shine of the mantra has lost its luster. Its presumed certainty is clouded in ambiguity.

This is the point in a recent RNS article called, “Why a Stout Theological Creed is Not Saving Evangelical Churches.

The author, reflecting on a recent book by Robert P. Jones, called The End of White Christian America, points out that the common tactic of comparing membership and attendance statistics, and then saying, “see, the recipe for growth and “health” in a church is sturdy, conservative, ‘orthodox’ theology,” can no longer work.

Evangelical churches and denominations are in steep decline now, too. They are chasing the mainline denominations. And this is especially true of white, evangelical churches and denominations. As the article summarizes,

The Southern Baptists — the premier evangelical denomination — have reported membership declines nine years in a row. Overall, white evangelicals have dropped from 21 percent of the population in 2008 to 17 percent in 2015. (It’s important to count white evangelicals as separate from black evangelicals, as is Jones’ practice, because the two groups are very different politically and culturally. When evangelicals of all racial/ethnic backgrounds are counted as one, their numbers add up to just over a quarter of the population.)

If you peer deep at the generational data, you also realize that the decline is not going to be reversed any time soon–if ever.

Don’t expect white evangelicals’ numbers to shoot back up in the coming years. Their strength appears especially anemic among young adults and those coming up behind them, as evidenced by the fact that only 10 percent of Americans under 30 are white and evangelical. That’s the same figure, by the way, as for white mainline Protestants.

I think this is the most intriguing point of the article. The percentage of white, evangelical Americans under 30 is the same as that of white, mainline Protestants.


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