Downward Denominational Trends

An interesting article from The Christian Century regarding worship attendance trends in mainline denominations.

Entry into this emerging, postmodern world is going to be tough on mainline denoms. If there was one negative thing that resulted from the reformation, it was the disagreement between groups that led to an increasingly splintered Christian landscape. The postmodern reformation has a chance to reverse that as churches pull toward a center of creed-based faith.

But the denoms won’t go down without a fight. They are painfully aware of the situation, however I’m not sure they have a solution. Presiding ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson recently told leaders, “it is time for the church to move forward and get over being “timid” about mission and ministry.” C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, recently tweeted “fact: every major denomination is aging and losing members including #Episcopal Church and Diocese of Texas” and “fact: institutional efforts to reverse downward trends & to capture religious imagination of young adults is limited.”

I don’t think any of the mainline denoms are doomed to the point of extinction. Someone will always be there to keep the ship afloat. But a look at the landscape of Europe, particularly England, can give a glimpse of the future in the US. The Church of England still exists, but it’s just a relic. More foot traffic is generated for being a museum than being a place of worship and spirituality.

It’s similar to the Blockbuster – Redbox/Netflix situation. Blockbuster is bankrupt. Redbox and Netflix are the competition. The are a new breed in the movie rental game: innovative, creative, simple, flexible, user-friendly, and adaptable. New expressions of church are the Redbox/Netflix to the denominations Blockbuster.

2 thoughts on “Downward Denominational Trends

  1. Interesting, but we still have 7-8 million members. Do you think there’s a chance the pendulum will swing back in time to save the mainline churches? Also, don’t you think the financial stability of the UMC will see the denomination through the storm where the free church won’t have that advantage when the tables turn back? Remember, that pendulum always swings back.

  2. Most Prestigious Dr. Allen:

    Thanks for the response. Let me start by saying that I appreciate denoms and think there are some very healthy/thriving examples of mainline churches being the church. Someone will always buck the trend. And from your perspective in your setting, it may not look as bad. It takes all kinds of churches to minister to all kinds of peoples.

    But, my comments obviously aren’t new – the denominational leaders themselves have already testified to their downturn.

    In terms of numbers, Barna said in 2005 that “more than fifty million adults now practice their faith through a variety of divergent faith models” such as house churches.

    And I would never say that mainlines will become extinct – there will always be some, but their function and prominence will be lessened.

    Re: financial stability – I’m not sure there is such a thing anymore. No company or organization in any market is guaranteed longterm stability anymore. You will always be able to find the stray video store that eeks by an existence and still rents out VHS tapes, with curmudgeonly employees. But the majority of people will be getting their DVDs thru the mail, online, or from a vending machine.

    In the same way, these newer expressions of church don’t have the need for such financial stability. They don’t have a huge building because they rent or meet at a home. The pastoral leaders are bi-vocational, or maybe not even paid at all. The ministry is decentralized because the leadership is decentralized.

    You’re right: the pendulum always swings back, but probably not in our lifetime.

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