Dwindling Membership: The United Church of Christ from 1965-2015

While I consider myself a post-denominational follower of the Way of Jesus, I have spent the most of the last six years involved in the life of congregations affiliated with the United Church of Christ.  This Mainline Protestant denomination has experienced a significant decline in membership over the last 50 years from over 2 million members in 1965 to under 1 million members in 2015. The graph at right shows the denomination's total membership by year in blue and the percent change or Read More …

Southern Baptist Decline

Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant tradition in the United States, are in decline.  They have lost nearly 1 million members over the last decade yielding a membership of just under 16 million. Conversion has always been an essential reason for growth in this Evangelical denomination.  Since peaking in 1999, the number of baptisms conducted each year has declined by 25%. So What? Emma Green, associate editor for The Atlantic and author of the article I linked to above, raises an Read More …

Church Size & Growth Potential

The Fall 2013 edition of Facts and Trends contains a graphic (p.4) from Leadership Network showing that Protestant megachurches are four times more likely to be growing than are all Protestant churches (79% compared to 20%). So What? This statistic is one of many that highlight the reality that America's largest Protestant churches are among the healthiest of all churches when it comes to growth. Since most congregations are smaller in size, the 20% number must be something that Read More …

Southern Baptist Decline

2012 was another rough year for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  More specifically, "according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with Baptist state conventions, most of the ACP metrics declined in 2012 including membership, average attendance, baptisms . . ."  Expressed as percentages, the declines are membership: 0.7%, average worship attendance: 3.1%, and baptisms: 5.5%. So What? While the SBC still has 6 million Read More …

So Many Dwindling Congregations

The cover story of the January 2013 edition of The Lutheran is "Shrinking Church," an article focusing on the pragmatic issues of decline within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  To substantiate the problem, Nicole Radziszewski notes the following statistics about the ELCA: In 2010, almost 30% of congregations had an average worship attendance of fewer than 50 people. From 2003 to 2011, average weekly worship attendance dropped 26%. From 2009 to 2010, Read More …

Can Christianity Be Saved?

As I read Ross Douthat's latest  New York Times editorial, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?," I knew I had to respond.  In short, he suggests that the end could well be near for progressive or liberal Christianity unless something changes rather significantly as a result of decades of decline.  While not proposing that other forms of Christianity have all fared well, he suggests that they have by way of comparison to progressive denominations. (For more on Douthat's perspective, read my Read More …

The Church in 2020 – Major Changes Ahead

I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the landscape of American Christianity since the 1950s.  Any time I make a presentation on the topic, people always ask about the future.  In order to more fully answer those questions I devised a list of changes I believe to be most likely.  The original list was created in 2006, before I entered the blogosphere. When I revised the list and turned it into a "top ten" in 2009, I published it on my blog.  In light of significant changes in Read More …

Top Challenges for the Mainline

Carol Howard Merritt, a Presbyterian pastor and the author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (2007 – read my review here) and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (2010 – read my review here), chaired a national committee for the Presbyterian Church (USA).  She shares the four significant challenges for the next generation as identified by the committee: Our denomination is over 90% white, while the overall population is increasingly diverse. The median Read More …

More Decline in the Mainline: UCC in Florida

I recently received the latest statistics about the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Between 2000 and 2010 membership declined 23.6% and giving through congregations to Our Church's Wider Mission (provides funding for the work of UCC Conference and National ministries) declined 42.7%.   So What? The Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ is not unique.  Mainline churches have been experiencing membership decline for decades.  In the most recent decade funding Read More …

From Death to Life – Mainline Decline

David Henson recently wrote a guest post on Bruce Reyes-Chow's site  suggesting that the best approach to the deathly ill group of denominations known as mainline Protestantism is realistic hope.  Henson does not propose a new way forward that will reverse the decades of decline.  Instead he suggests that those aware of death's nearness are more likely to act boldly and that for Christians and the mainline there is life beyond death.  He ends the article with these words: Because when we Read More …