Saturday, July 26, 2008

Decline of Mainline Protestant Churches

Joseph Bottum, in First Things, on the death of Protestant America. An excerpt:

All three have suffered serious losses: the Presby­terians down 1.6 percent over the previous year, the Lutherans down 1.09, and the Methodists down 0.79. The other Mainline churches show the same pattern: The Episcopalians, for instance, lost 1.55 percent of their members in 2005. By 2025, runs a bitter joke among conservative Anglicans, the Episcopal Church will have one priest for every congregant. And these recent numbers are actually a slight improvement. The greatest damage was done from 1990 to 2000—a decade in which the United Church of Christ declined 14.8 percent, for example, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 11.6 percent.

Another way to parse the data is to consider the average age of church membership. The 1998 to 2002 sets of the General Social Survey show that the Mainline Protestant denominations have the oldest average age of any religious group in America, at almost fifty-two years. And they will get older yet. In 2005, the Baylor Religion Survey found that 28.1 percent of believers aged sixty-five and over—but only 17.6 percent of those thirty-one to forty-four—identify themselves as members of the Mainline.


Anonymous said...

I was raised Methodist, and thought about attending a Lutherian church. I didn't stay with either basically because I took the bible too seriously for them. I am totally unsurprised by this finding. When any church leaves the bible and thinks other things are more important, they will decline and fall, in my experience.

Michael Wade said...


I think that too many churches have forgotten their main mission and have become social service agencies with steeples.

Unknown said...

The protestant churches are over whelming lead and administered by members 55 years old and older. They are set in their beliefs, ways, and worship service. A Mehodist church in my town was built 25 yeats ago for an average weekly attendance of 250 members! Today, on a good Sunday there is 90in attendance. In my studies, the single most important factor to keeping a church alive is a strong youth program under the direction of a "go getter". So many churches do not see the need for their youth and the essential role it has in keeping churches alive.

Anonymous said...

In my little upstate NY town, the big Presbyterian church is nearly empty on Sunday now and the people that do go are graybeards. They had a woman pastor there for a while and were getting weird but have men back now (improvement). It’s sad to see that the other mainline denominations in town have all sold their buildings off to other non-religious users. On the other hand, the Catholic church in town is busting at the seams at every mass and we have a half-dozen or so new joiners every Easter. It’s so packed on Christmas and Easter I worry about the structural integrity of the floor, not even room in the fourier. Lots of kids and young people too. People want that “old time religion” not this new-age crapola that gets peddled as “Christianity”. Granted, if the priest were not an old hippy but rather a younger more orthodox fellow, they’d be standing in the parking lot with a jumbo-tron for the overflow.