Skip to comments.Churches Fight Back Against Shrinking Membership
Posted on 06/03/2009 7:26:03 PM PDT by fgoodwin
"What if church wasn't just a building, but thousands of doors?" asks a new website launched by the United Methodist Church. "Each of them opening up to a different concept or experience of church. . . . Would you come?" After watching its membership drop nearly 25 percent in recent decades, the United Methodist Church, which is still the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, thinks it knows the answer. So it's pouring $20 million into a new marketing campaign, including the website, television advertisements, even street teams in some cities, to rebrand the church from stale destination to "24-7 experience."
"The under-35 generation thinks church is a judgmental, hypocritical, insular place," says Jamie Dunham, chief planning officer for Bohan Advertising & Marketing, the firm that designed the United Methodist campaign. "So our question is: What if church can change the world with a journey?"
With their pews having thinned dramatically, other mainline Protestant denominations are posing similar questions in like-minded campaigns. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a major mainline denomination, has TV ads spotlighting the church's charitable work and encouraging Lutherans to take pride in and to share their faith with friends. And the Episcopal Church recently launched a website called "I am Episcopalian," where half a million church members have uploaded videos explaining their faith.
These are the kinds of entrepreneurial church-building strategies that are more typical of evangelical megachurches, which have focused on member experiences by offering contemporary music and weeknight small-group meetings. Mainline denominations, meanwhile, have clung to hymns and centuries-old worship styles. "In the competitive spiritual marketplace, mainline churches are trying to reinvent themselves," says Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University.
Some mainline church officials admit to taking a page from the evangelical playbook. And no wonder. Since 1990, the number of Americans identifying themselves as members of mainline denominations, including Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ, has slid from nearly 19 percent of the population to under 13 percent, a loss of 3.5 million people. Over the same period, the number identifying themselves as nondenominational Christians, the evangelical-style tradition of the megachurches, has exploded, from fewer than 200,000 to more than 8 million. "The megachurch folks learned that they have to address people where they are in their daily lives, and that's not in the sanctuary," says the Rev. Larry Hollon, who heads communications for the United Methodists. "The Methodist Church is beginning to recall that that is who we are as well."
With their new branding campaigns, mainline churches are betting that many young Americans are looking for worship alternatives to politically conservative evangelical congregations. A recent study conducted for the United Methodist Church by the Barna Group, a consulting firm specializing in faith-based polling, found that a third of Americans under 35 consider themselves spiritual but are not deeply connected to a church. "These young people have rejected too close a tie between religion and politics," says David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. "So the mainline sensibility provides a unique opportunity to speak to them."
Barna's polling also found that young Americans share an increasingly global outlook and a concern for social justice issues like poverty. Ninety-six percent say they want to make a difference in the world. So the United Methodist Church's new ads and website feature Methodist-led service projects around the globe. The Lutheran Church's new branding campaign, called "God's Work, Our Hands," spotlights a church soup kitchen in North Dakota and a mission in Senegal that teaches women business skills.
For all their marketing research and high production value, though, mainliners' branding campaigns face big challenges. Many young people are more likely to volunteer through college organizations or groups like Habitat for Humanity than by joining a new church. Indeed, some religion scholars say the campaigns' social justice messages aren't distinct enough to break through. "Study after study has shown that religions that grow are the ones that are hard-core in some way. They have something that differs sharply from the culture in which they operate," says Boston University's Prothero. "That's the problem with mainline Protestantism: It's not different enough from mainstream America."
And bringing any kind of change to centuries-old denominations won't be easy. "The brand and character of the Episcopal Church is being driven by a lot of things that came out of 17th-century England," says Robert Putnam, a Harvard University professor who has studied church growth. "You can't change that with an ad campaign."
Some mainline church officials say their denominations have begun making broader changes, updating worship music and offering small-group environments for congregants. But the branding campaigns, they say, are just as important. "The large churches have been extremely good at initial evangelizing," says Anne Rudig, the director of communications for the Episcopal Church. "But I'm an evangelist, too."
Draw your own conclusions, folks . . .
Please ping the Episcopal / Anglican list.
United Methodists may want try something that worked 2,000 years ago. Preaching Christ crucified and spare us the causes.
I go to the local Church of God. We don’t need to advertise. The place is 3/4 full every Sunday and half full on Wednesday.
Good bye, apostates!
Mainline churches lose 3.5M since 1990, while nondenominational-Evangelicals increase by 8M!
- - - - - - - -
Yep, the liberal churches are declining. The conservative ones are growing at a very rapid clip.
We recently had a baptism at our very conservative non-denom church (we hold one about every 3 months) with over 50 people baptized at the service.
“United Methodists may want try something that worked 2,000 years ago. Preaching Christ crucified and spare us the causes.”
Amen Brother, amen.
The Methodist Church and the Catholic Church endorse Sanctuary for Illegal Aliens and Amnesty and preach it from the pulpit - A NO WINNER FOR MILLIONS of Americans...
Many Protestant Churches have policies of minding the personal business of church members, couple counseling, individual counseling with ‘on staff’ counselors. Men like me do not want - nor will be tolerate a church getting involved in my personal or family business... Then there is ‘politics’ - churches should stay out of politics - period...
I want to go to a church to WORSHIP GOD - and nothing else...
And - I believe millions of American men believe as I do - worship God and leave me alone.
So they think their decline is due to their not pushing Liberalism hard enough. It’s hard to believe they could be so stupid.
Maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe the Catholic Church took us all in the wrong direction. Maybe it was all meant to be a small personal experience shared on an intimate level. Didn't we start with house churches, supper tables and upstairs rooms? How did we get here? What if we went back? What if we were never supposed to be here in the first place? And who's benefiting? I guess if we follow the money as people say, we might find the answer (we would follow the collection plate up the aisle right to that charismatic figure at the front of the church...no not the statue on the cross... the guy with the baccalaureate rob and the white, white smile...in front of the cross).
It's just something to think about.
I wonder if a "24-7 experience" of the religion they're selling at the Methodist Church is anything like the total Christian commitment Jesus had in mind. I suspect maybe not.
These "churches" are the churches of Jeremiah Wright and Killer Tiller.
Beware any member of the National Council of Churches. They all need to die. They are apostate. They are churches, they are left wing political organizations.
African Methodist Episcopal Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Alliance of Baptists
American Baptist Churches in the USA
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Church of the Brethren
The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America
The Episcopal Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends United Meeting
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Hungarian Reformed Church in America
International Council of Community Churches
Korean Presbyterian Church in America
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Mar Thoma Church
Moravian Church in America Northern Province and Southern Province
National Baptist Convention of America
National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
Orthodox Church in America
Patriarchal Parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church in the USA
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Polish National Catholic Church of America
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Reformed Church in America
Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada
The Swedenborgian Church
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America
United Church of Christ
The United Methodist Church
You can set out all the tables you want at a potluck, but if you don’t have any food to provide, people ain’t gonna come.
One guess why the Methodist church is shrinking: let’s see, if you’re going to abandon scripture, the only thing that works is name it and claim it, blab it and grab it. People don’t want to sit around and listen to some spiritual pluralists bloviating about bio-diesel behind the pulpit.
Turn with me, please, to the book of Second Ethanol.
Over the same period, the number identifying themselves as nondenominational Christians, the evangelical-style tradition of the megachurches, has exploded, from fewer than 200,000 to more than 8 million.
Explosive growth, the ecclesiastical puffball mushroom :
A red flag. For me anyway.
LOL doesn’t do it justice.
There are 7 churches in Revelation, and as many reasons why people go to any given church as there are people in church. I love all the churches—the foundation of our love for freedom. I really miss them when I go to the cities, with all those buildings for worshipping man and money. My favorite place to worship is alone on a mountain top watching the sunset (and wondering if I’ll get down in time).
What if a church was gospel-based and not a left-wing political site?