Skip to comments.Report: Mainline Protestant Churches Face Rockier Future (Membership Decline, Evangelicals Growing)
Posted on 12/07/2009 4:27:19 PM PST by SeekAndFind
Mainline Protestant churches seem to have weathered the past decade better than many people have assumed, but the future is raising serious challenges to continued stability, said a Christian pollster.
George Barna analyzed data for The Barna Group's latest report examining mainline denominations. Weekend attendance at mainline churches has remained relatively stable, ranging from 89 to 100, over the past decade but the report suggests that they may be "on the precipice of a period of decline."
Mainline bodies which the research group identifies as American Baptist Churches in the USA; The Episcopal Church; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the United Church of Christ; and the United Methodist Church once dominated the Protestant landscape of America but today make up just one-fifth of all Protestant congregations today, the report notes.
Declining membership since the 1950s plus the growth among evangelical and Pentecostal churches have contributed to the shrinking of the mainline sector.
Only 15 percent of American adults identify with a mainline church, according to The Barna Group.
But even among congregants in mainline churches, the report points to a lack of commitment. Adherents are attending church services less frequently than they used to, volunteerism has dropped by 21 percent, and adult Sunday school involvement has decline by 17 percent since 1998.
Only 31 percent of mainline adults believe they have a personal responsibility to discuss their faith with people who have different beliefs and a minority of them are presently involved in some type of personal discipleship activity.
Many are also considering other spiritual options, the report states. Only 49 percent of mainline adults say they are "absolutely committed to Christianity;" less than half contend that the Bible is accurate in the life principles it teaches; more than half (51 percent) say they are willing to try a new church; and 67 percent are open to pursuing faith in environments or structures that are different from those of a typical church.
Additionally, 72 percent say they are more likely to develop own religious beliefs than to adopt those taught by their church and 86 percent sense that God is motivating people to stay connected to Him through different means and experiences than in the past.
Softly-held convictions are not the only things threatening the stability of mainline groups. The Ventura, Calif.-based research group predicts a rockier future as the percentage of adults attending mainline congregations who have children under the age of 18 living in their home has dropped (22 percent); the proportion of single adults has risen to 39 percent of all mainline adult attendees; and the number of divorced and widowed adherents has increased.
While weekend attendance has remained stable the report suggests that mainline churches have been attracting "just enough newcomers" to maintain their attendance levels and has not kept up with overall population growth in America.
Mainline churches are also not attracting many young people who are 25 or younger or minorities. Young adults make up only 2 percent of all adults attending mainline churches and Hispanics and Asians make up only 8 percent of mainline congregants.
The report draws attention to the significance of the failure to draw the growing Hispanic population. Moreover, many Hispanics are found to be leaving Catholicism and joining Protestant churches, but they're mostly settling into evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant congregations.
In other findings, pastors in mainline churches on average last only four years about half the average among Protestant pastors in non-mainline churches before moving to another congregation. The future of mainline churches hinges partly on the quality of leadership provided, Barna said.
The report is based on several national surveys among 267 mainline adults in 1998 and 1,148 adults in 2008. The surveys among pastors involved 492 mainline senior pastors.
**Only 31 percent of mainline adults believe they have a personal responsibility to discuss their faith with people who have different beliefs and a minority of them are presently involved in some type of personal discipleship activity. **
A very sad number.
If the gray hair I see every time I’m in Church is any indication, I’d say there is going to be a huge decline in the need for church parking lots over the next 20 years.
Real people aren’t going to sit in the pew for 20 years listening to heresy and stick around.
accepting homo’s for clergy positions and now this ;http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2402432/posts
I’d hate to be them come judgement day.
May be related to a UCC service I attended last year, in which the name of Jesus was never mentioned.
“A very sad number”
Sad because the fact is that most churches do not teach sound doctrine, hence the fellowship doesn’t really know what they believe. How can you witness if you don’t know what you believe? The Lord may tarry for another thousand years but the age of apostacy has begun.
Mainline churches are declining, imo, because they are being so open minded their brains fall out.
Sarcasm aside, the essential problem is they no longer emphasize Sola Scriptura and Christ as The Way, Truth and Life.
What follows from that is the liberal social and economic policies we here at Free Republic disdain so much.
Don’t know if the United Methodist Church is considered “mainline”, but they are going that way, too.
A danger resides in stand alone evangelical churches: hobby horses, the danger of exclusivity, and some other problems. We in evangelicalism would do well to beware, even as we see the Christian churches of yesteryear go the way of the dinosaur.
I know what the Catholic Church believes! I wish more Catholics did too.
Many of the people here on FR know their faith and are willing to speak out.
I think we all wish that there were more. (Can we clone ourselves? LOL!)
Unless of course they might be seeking a parties presidential nomination.
The why is simple; when the spirit departs the body dies.
many Hispanics are found to be leaving Catholicism and joining Protestant churches, but they're mostly settling into evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant congregations.
There is an interesting dynamic. The fast growing churches are being flooded with people of catholic background. There is a kind of cross fertilization going on as mainline protestants become catholics and catholics migrate into especially the "non-denominationl" evangelical movements. The effects are seen not so much at the doctrinal level where doctrines remain pretty firm, but at the level of a kind of sensibility.
Regarding other comments about demographics, my church (a Christian Reformed Church [the more conservative of the two Dutch Calvinist denominations]) has bazillions of kids. I know because I sit in the back. It is amazing to see how many good [any generally well-educated, unlike the liberal stereotypes] folks are having 3-5 kids these days. Gives one hope. It doesn’t mean that our pastor is politically incorrect (he still hates the Iraq war; on the other hand, he did subtly slam the Lutherans for going gay), it just means that preaching the Gospel and holding up the Bible as a guidepost for all of us is an honest and attractive message.
Thank you Evangelicals. The West needs strong Protestant churches.
>>Dont know if the United Methodist Church is considered mainline, but they are going that way, too.
The UMC is considered mainline, and like all mainline churches, it has a problem. They need to attract the young adults, but young adults are confused. They want an all-inclusive, big tent atmosphere that accepts everyone for what they are and never judges or nudges. But, once they get inside, that type of church offers nothing in the way of spiritual guidance and it just becomes a social club for them. They want a huge church, with all the amenities, but don’t want to contribute money or time to make it happen.
Basically, they want a church with everything, as long as someone else pays for it and does all the work. They don’t want to read the Bible or listen to long sermons or to attend in-depth Bible study, but they want the full understanding from their first day. It’s just a reflection of what they want from everything in our sound-bite, special-effects, entitlement culture.
I’m heavily involved in the UMC’s ReThink Church initiative in my congregation and the contradictions between what people want and what they say they need are enough to make you want to give up. But I keep trying to figure out the balance and help create a place where people can come to know Jesus.
This isn’t really all that surprising.
Evangelical Churches have a vibrant faith. They have faith in Christ, faith in the Scriptures, and faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Mainline Churches, for the most part, have become little more than, “Let’s-Dress-Up-On-Sundays-And-Play-Happy-Feel-Good-Hour.” Sure, many of them, such as the Episcopalian Church, have wonderful liturgies but that means nothing when there is no substance involved.
I myself am fond of traditional liturgies, which is why I have not gone the Evangelical path myself. Fortunately, I attend an Anglican church in California - our diocese broke away from the ECUSA and is quite traditional in its faith. Were it not for this, I’d personally probably put aside my love of liturgy for my love of sound doctrine in Christ - outward forms must always take a backseat to living faith.
Catholics, along with Orthodox Christians, are in a unique position in that the nature of their views precludes the idea of the faithful departing the Church. Sedevancatists aside, the more faithful one is to traditional Church teaching the less likely they will be to depart from the Church itself due to Church teaching that it IS the One True Church of Christ. This has granted these Churches an advantage in being able to maintain their more faithful and zealous members. As Protestants, however, we do not believe this about our own denominations and thus the tendency to leave and form new groups when the old are found wanting.
I say bless you if you’re really working to change the UMC.
The mission of that church organization, imho, has become polluted with liberals in leadership positions.
I left it years ago, sad about the situation in the UMC as a whole and at my congregation in particular. We were heavily active in the worship service planning—trying to make it friendlier to younger people while remaining biblical.
Older adherants to the faith didn’t like the loud music. And so it goes.
Long story short, we left.
Yeah, I guess if you want a church that rejects birth control, it’s the sola scriptura folks you want... ;)
There are many reasons for why they are declining, but turning away from sola scriptura is not one of them.
They bring to mind this quote (see tagline)
Typically I attend Saturday evening Mass, when I go. The families come Sunday morning so there would be more activity along those lines, but not nearly as much as during the seventies.
Sadly, nothing has changed since you left. The old people still want the same worship their grandparents had. The young adults don’t know what they want except that they “need” something. The challenge is getting them recognize that what they need is to give their life over to something greater than themselves and they are a very selfish generation. I’m in my mid-40’s, so I can communicate with both generations and understand what both want.
The whole ReThink Church initiative is sponsored by the UMC, but all the effort is done at the congregation level. The liberals in church leadership are a problem, but ultimately they follow Christ (but in a lefty kind of way where slavery to the communist state is more Christian than capitalism—but that’s a topic in itself!) so I steer things to the right where I can, but recognize the true direction we must go or our church will die, or become ineffective as disciples, in the next decade.
See it happening across the board.
I also have seen many of those who go to the Evangelical churches leave for nothing.
We are living in a post Christian age.
I've noted the merging of churches as well, regardless of reasons for splits etc. many are joining with other other churches, and or building huge congregational churches.
Catholics may relocate and find another Catholic church in the area, but it is not always the case for Protestants, who can move from one denomination to another.
They are more inclined, I think, to judge where they attend by the Pastor or Preacher who speaks ,and if or not from scripture, at least those who seem serious about the things of God.
Unfortunately the contemporary lean in allot of churches has, in my opinion, moved the focus too far away from the centrality of Christ, to programs, events, lights cameras and action. It's become more about the show now rather than the star of the show. Thus people leave “feeling” religious rather than hearing and being moved by the truths being taught, if they are even taught at all.
Even in the Catholic church, some are so caught up in the rituals and such, though might be important to each who practice, and the ‘feeling’ of being religious. That they miss out on the words coming from scriptures being spoken.
I guess to me it just seems like Christ has become the afterthought rather than central to many believers lifes.
The churches today reflect that I think.
Too many interruptions as I did this but trust you get my drift.