From Mainline to Sideline to Oldline

Tobin GrantI grew up in a Mainline Protestant congregation.  The congregation I was raised in belonged to one of the seven sisters of Mainline American Protestantism: the Congregational Church (now a part of the United Church of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, and the Disciples of Christ.

While my childhood congregation has remained a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the larger tradition into which that denomination is grouped sociologically has experienced many shifts.  In recognition of years of membership decline and decreased voice in the public square the language commonly used to describe this group shifted from Mainline to Sideline.  To communicate those dramatic declines while also noting the advanced median age within this group some have now begun to prefer to use the term Oldline.

A Visual Reality Check

Earlier this month Tobin Grant shared a visual image that shows the median age of adults who belong to 44 different religious traditions.  While the legend names the group I have been speaking of as Mainline the data on the chart clearly communicates just how Oldline we have become.



So What?

Grant shared several observations about the chart, including

Among Protestants, mainline denominations have members who are among the oldest and highest educated.

As I think of my own journey I immediately notice I was once a part of the group with the oldest median age (Disciples of Christ). I have also been affiliated with several traditions that are close to the oldest, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

As one who serves two congregations with median ages that are off this chart (over 62 years of age), I am concerned about the future of the once Mainline Protestant Church.

  • Are you a part of a Mainline Protestant congregation? If so, what is the median age of your members?
  • Why do you think the Mainline Protestant groups attract the oldest and highest educated members?
  • What shifts do you think are needed if Mainline Protestantism is to grow younger?


  1. Bob White says:

    Personally, I am experiencing a transition in my faith. Yes, I consider myself to be Mainline in origin, a Sideline in process and an Oldline, today, in my age and experience; but not in my belief or expectations.
    I have many current questions. Must we still worship God as a being? Must we follow Jesus as the literal Son-of-God? Must the Eucharist be practiced symbolically rather than an actual, extended group experience of bread and wine and dialogue/learning? Must we recite ancient creeds and homilies? Must our collective prayer experience while together be verbal rather than contemplative? Must our learning avoid the issues of personal false-self (ego) behaviors and values in place of personal efforts in transition to a true-self (humility) presence in our daily life including our church experience? Will such change lead us to a greater, larger and growing faith community? Our weekly challenge in teaching and message has already changed dramatically, more contemporary and more engaging. Is this too progressive? Our future time together will offer the answers to my questions. And for me, that is enough because as a Oldline they are my answers. But, I’m not the future. And about the future, I honestly don’t know.

Speak Your Mind