NCC annual survey shows the decline of the Mainlines

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Mainline churches reporting declines in membership are United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.61 percent to 2,770,730 members; the Episcopal Church, down 2.48 percent to 2,006,343 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 members; the American Baptist Churches USA, down 1.55 percent to 1,310,505; the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), down 1.08 percent to 2,312,111 members; and the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members.

via National Council of Churches USA.

The report mentions the fact that the churches which are growing continued to grow and those that didn’t, well, didn’t. A couple of things to say about that, actually, but I suspect that many simply believe that it as to do with the End Times, etc… The fact is, is that people are changing what they expect out of religion and their understanding of it. But, I’ll leave that to you.

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

2 thoughts on “NCC annual survey shows the decline of the Mainlines

  1. Church growth stats do need a little more unpacking to see what they mean. British Methodism loves to count heads; we do it every year, counting our membership and our attendance, and the figures always show a decline. People panic about them, draw the lines on the graph, and predict the date when the last Methodist will switch off the lights on the way out. We keep passing the date. Hmmm.

    Two thoughts. First, it’s about sociology as much as spirituality. We are now in a culture which doesn’t like to commit or join formally to things, but dip in and perhaps dip out. It affects lots of other organisations, not just the Church. The stats are not simply evidence of a receding tide of faith. I still meet folk who attend occasionally or not at all, yet seem to have a real spirituality, even good beliefs, but there are reasons why that doesn’t put them in church on Sunday.

    Secondly, the stats are all averages. A figure showing (say) a gradual annual decline of 5% in membership will contain some churches declining at 20 or 30%, some nosediving towards closure and oblivion, some holding their own, and some actually growing. Someone quoted a stat a few years ago that 1 in 4 Methodist churches was growing. If that was true, it suggests the point will come where the Church stops declining, but will be a much smaller and fitter body than it is at present.

    It’s all speculation, of course. The national stats don’t usually bother most folk – they’re only bothered if it’s their church which is facing closure. I don’t think God is finished with us yet, not by a long chalk. But what we will be will certainly be very different to what we now are or have been.

    1. Your Methodism sounds like our Methodism! I have to wonder if some of the decline is in fact due to the fact that people no longer care to fill out membership cards…

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