Southern Baptists vs United Methodists

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Mark Tooley challenges the conventional wisdom that evangelicalism should become more progressive to prevent its decline.

The popular conventional narrative asserts that young people in droves are quitting evangelical Christianity because it’s too socially and politically conservative. Of course, the implication is that if only Evangelicalism would liberalize, especially on sexuality, then it might become more appealing.

But all the available evidence as to what happens to liberalizing churches strongly indicates the opposite. Mainline Protestantism is in many ways what critics of Evangelicalism wish it would become. And yet the Mainline, comprised primarily of the “Seven Sister” historic denominations, has been in continuous free-fall since the early to mid-1960s. Its implosion accelerated after most of these denominations specifically liberalized their sexuality teachings over the last 20 years.

  • Episcopal Church peaked in 1966 at 3.4 million, now 1.7 million (50% loss).

  • Presbyterian Church (USA) peaked 1965 at 4.4 million, now 1.4 million (68% loss).

  • United Church of Christ peaked 1965 at 2.1 million, now 850,000 (60% loss)

  • ELCA (Lutheran) peaked 1968 at 5.9 million, now 3.5 million (41% loss)

  • Christian Church (Disciples) peaked 1964 at 1.9 million, now 400,000 (80% loss).

  • United Methodists peaked 1965 at 11 million, now 6.9 million (40% loss).

  • American Baptist peaked 1.5 million, now 1.2 million (25% loss).

What unites these denominations in decline? The undermining of Biblical authority. Tooley points out that the two Mainline denominations that have not officially liberalized on sexuality, United Methodism and American Baptists, have declined the least.

In contrast, All growing denominations in America are conservative, including the Assemblies of God, which in 1965 had 572,123 and now has 3.2 million (460% increase), the Church of God in Cleveland, which in 1964 had 220,405 and now has 1.2 million (445% increase), the Christian Missionary Alliance, which in 1965 had 64,586 and now has 440,000 (576% increase), and the Church of the Nazarene 1965, which in 343,380 and now has 626,811 (82% increase).

What about the Southern Baptists, America’s largest evangelical denomination? They have been in decline for the last 18 years from 16.4 million to 15 million. That’s a loss of 8% compared to the average Mainline loss of 50%. While SBC membership figures are down, its worship attendance was up by 120,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile the Southern Baptists have been planting churches with a 20% increase in the number of churches over the last twenty years. There’s been a strong focus on planting black and hispanic churches. Something the liberal/progressive Mainline denominations find impossible to do.

I’ll have more to say on this topic soon. Over January I’m working on my next book which is on the Lifecycle of Movements — how they rise and fall.

Lessons from the Wesleyan Revival

Winfield Bevins has an ebook out via Exponential on the lessons from the early Methodist movement.

Here's my endorsement:

Marks of a Movement is a concise account of the characteristics of the Methodist movement and its application for today. I’ve read a lot of material on John Wesley and the Methodists, but this eBook has some valuable surprises. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the greatest movements in history.

You can download it for free via Exponential.

107-Lessons from the Primitive Methodists — Dave Price [podcast]

Dave Price

Dave Price

I'm always on the look out for case studies of dynamic movements.

In this episode, I talk to Dave Price, researcher and author of Turning the World Upside Down: Learning from The Primitive Methodist Movement.

50 years of predictable decline for the United Methodists

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Mark Tooley reports that it’s 50 years since membership in the United Methodist church grew in the US.

The Methodist Church had 10,331,574 in 1965, an increase of about 27,000 over 1964. Then it lost 21,000 in 1966, a trend never reversed and in fact accelerated after the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Although becoming an 11 million member church, losses increased initially to sometimes over 150,000 annually. Today United Methodism in the U.S. stands at 7.3 million, an over one third decline.

Meanwhile how were the more evangelical Wesleyan denominations going?

The Church of God increased by two thirds. The Wesleyan Church increased by 75 percent. The Church of the Nazarene nearly doubled. The Free Methodist Church increased by 25 percent. The Assemblies of God have increased a whopping 500 percent. Growth for most of these churches over the last several years has leveled off, except for the still fast growing Assemblies. But none are experiencing United Methodism’s ongoing exodus.

Until 1967 Methodism was America’s largest Protestant denomination. That year the Southern Baptists caught up and today outnumber the United Methodists two to one.

What led to the decline?

Methodism’s official seminaries were all captured by liberalism by the 1920s. Most clergy weren’t seminary trained until mid century, but the course of study materials for non-seminary trained clergy closely followed seminary curricula. By the 1960s nearly all of the clergy would have been trained in theological modernism, denying or minimizing the supernatural and personal salvation in favor of Social Gospel and therapeutic themes. A 1967 survey found 60 percent of Methodist clergy disbelieving the Virgin Birth and 50 percent disbelieving the Resurrection.

The tragedy is that despite the lessons of history, a new generation of progressive evangelicals are treading the same path. You can get away with it for a while but sooner or later the outcome will be the same.

UPDATE: Evangelicals Dominate Fastest-Growing Large United Methodist Churches

The free fall of Progressive Christianity

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Is there any limit to how far Christian progressives can fall from Jesus' teaching on sexuality?

Apparently not.

What amazes me is not their fall, but the reluctance of those to uphold the teaching of Jesus, and the whole of Scripture, to resist them. We are damned by our silence. We are damned by our support of denominational structures and theological institutions that are unfaithful to a Biblical view of sexuality.

Every movement that accommodates itself to the spirit of the age is headed for decline and decay. No exceptions.

Politically correct, evangelistically impotent.


On May 7 the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops will visit the Mexican border to advertise their political support for “immigration reform.”

The United Methodist church favours open borders and the guarantee of all government benefits to all immigrants immediately.

Yet less than 1 percent of United Methodists in the U.S. are Hispanic. Not quite 1 percent are Asian. Despite all the political rhetoric from bishops and other church bureaucrats, the church, like other declining old-line Protestant denominations, remains over 90 percent white Anglo, unable to reach new ethnic constituencies.

Juicy Ecumenism asks,

What if United Methodist bishops and agencies, instead of staging political statements on immigration, actually focused on welcoming immigrants to United Methodist churches? And what if they kept in mind that growing Hispanic churches are evangelical, Christ-focused, Bible believing, and usually charismatic or Pentecostal?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if United Methodism were better known for evangelistic success among immigrants instead of ineffective, empty political rhetoric?

Margaret Thatcher the Methodist


From the American Spectator on the impact of Margaret Thatcher's faith on her politics.

Margaret Thatcher was forever the thrifty Methodist grocer’s daughter of Grantham. Her father was both lay preacher and Conservative Party stalwart. They attended the Methodist church several times every Sabbath and heeded many then Methodist strictures against theater-going and dancing. Her family’s social life was enmeshed in the church’s sewing meetings, youth guilds, and missions work, as she recalled to the Catholic Herald 35 years ago.