Liberal Protestant

Theology Matters

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Why do progressive/liberal/mainline churches decline?

For years academics and church officials have denied that decline has anything to do with beliefs. Decline resulted from external factors, not internal factors.

Former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, claimed that since Episcopalians were better-educated and cared for the earth, they had lower birth rates than other Christians.

Recently a Canadian study has concluded that theology does matter.

The authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy surveyed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, and conducted interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants.

Some of the results:

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches. 
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches. 
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches. 
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

About two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

Why study the decline of the Protestant mainline? We watch and learn, or their future will become ours.

PC USA collapse picks up speed

PCUSA membership chart 2014

The PCUSA is a church made up of vibrant congregations doing their best to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities and in the world. Membership declines continue, but on a whole the denomination is settling into the new thing God is creating.

Gradye Parsons, top official of the PC (USA)

The PCUSA has announced it’s largest ever percentage decline for the year 2014. The denomination has lost a staggering 645,895 members since 2005, 28% of the denomination’s members.

Every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.

UPDATE: It's not all bad news for the Presbyterians...

Another year of Episcopal decline

Skull Gravestone 700x475 Jeffrey Walton reports on another year of decline for the Episcopal church.

The 2013 reporting year saw a continuation of the downward trend, with a membership drop of 27,423 to 1,866,758 (1.4 percent) while attendance dropped 16,451 to 623,691 (2.6 percent). A net 45 parishes were closed, and the denomination has largely ceased to plant new congregations.

The new numbers do not factor in the departure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, of which the church continues to report over 28,000 members and over 12,000 attendees, despite the majority of South Carolina congregations severing their relationship with the Episcopal Church at the end of 2012. If South Carolina departures were factored in, the membership loss would be closer to 50,000 persons.

The decline offers contrast with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which reported growth in membership, attendance and number of congregations in its 2013 statistics this June. ACNA was formed in 2009 by departing Episcopalians who disagreed with the liberalizing direction of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

more. . ,

 

Another year of Episcopal decline

Skull Gravestone 700x475 Jeffrey Walton reports on another year of decline for the Episcopal church.

The 2013 reporting year saw a continuation of the downward trend, with a membership drop of 27,423 to 1,866,758 (1.4 percent) while attendance dropped 16,451 to 623,691 (2.6 percent). A net 45 parishes were closed, and the denomination has largely ceased to plant new congregations.

The new numbers do not factor in the departure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, of which the church continues to report over 28,000 members and over 12,000 attendees, despite the majority of South Carolina congregations severing their relationship with the Episcopal Church at the end of 2012. If South Carolina departures were factored in, the membership loss would be closer to 50,000 persons.

The decline offers contrast with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which reported growth in membership, attendance and number of congregations in its 2013 statistics this June. ACNA was formed in 2009 by departing Episcopalians who disagreed with the liberalizing direction of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church.

more. . ,

 

Missional angst

dilbert mission.jpg

In 1997, Scott Adams the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, masqueraded as a management consultant to Logitech executives.

He convinced the executives of the Logitech company to replace their existing mission statement with this one:

to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission-inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings.

Our contemporary angst over the meaning of "mission" is not the child of postmodern Christianity, although it has its postmodern expressions.

The angst popped up during the 1920s in the wake of the influence of nineteenth century secularized theology, coupled with the disillusionment that followed the horror World War I.

Ironically the previous century had been the "Great Century" of missionary advance and the rise of indigenous movements in the developing world that later resulted in Christianity becoming a global faith.

Western and Westernized church leaders spent much of the twentieth century discussing their theology of “mission”. The outcome of those discussions tended towards view of mission that was far broader and more intent on improving this life, rather than preparing for the next.

Unfortunately every time the church leaders returned from their gatherings, they returned to dwindling and aging congregations. A broadly defined, secularized mission was the cause and the fruit of institutional decline and decay.

Many of the ministers I knew as a young boy in the 1960s began their careers as pioneer missionaries, then became local pastors before moving on to become social workers in what they called the "marketplace" or "real world."

Since the heyday of the early 1960s, liberal Christianity has been in free fall.

These things go in cycles of about forty years. So it should be no surprise that a new generation of evangelicals and “post-evangelicals” are seeking to broaden and secularize their understanding of mission.

Perhaps a better title for this post would have been, "Missional Deja Vu"

A lost cause

In 1927 Robert Wilder resigned and returned to the mission field. He was the first and last of the founding leaders. The Student Volunteer Movement continued to distance itself from the missionary ideals that had launched it.

At the 1928 SVM convention in Detroit, Sherwood Eddy publicly repudiated the founding vision of the movement: “The Evangelization of the world in this generation.” No one challenged him.

As the SVM, YMCA, YWCA, and the mainline denominations embraced theological liberalism and the social gospel, the outcome was catastrophic.

In the 1920s the numbers of missionaries sent out by the mainline denominations declined by two-thirds. Faith missions replaced denominations as the primary senders of missionaries. They shunned the SVM which became increasingly irrelevant to the missionary enterprise.

In the 1940s the faith missions and conservative denominations turned to the evangelical Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) for missionary recruits.

In its last thirty years the SVM wandered dazed through a series of mergers and restructures. In 1969, the ecumenical student alliance it had joined three years earlier, voted itself out of existence. What had once been the greatest student missionary movement in the history of the church was laid to rest.

Meanwhile many SVM leaders found their way into the ecumenical movement and the religious bureaucracy of the World Council of Churches (WCC). In 1946 John Mott received a Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the ecumenical movement.

Today Wishart’s dream of a non western indigenous missionary force to complete world evangelization is coming to fulfillment, but not through the SVM.

At the heart of the SVM’s demise was the loss of its reason for existence. A clear missionary mandate to evangelize the world in this generation was replaced by a vague social gospel agenda that eventually found expression, not in social transformation, but in the religious bureaucracy of the World Council of Churches.

The SVM embraced another gospel that was powerless to mobilize students for world missions. The movement was born in 1886, by 1924 it had abandoned its founding cause of world evangelization. For the next 45 years, the momentum of its pioneering era carried it through until what was left of the SVM voted itself out of existence.

When the SVM emerged out of a student summer camp in 1886 there were 2,000 protestant, cross-cultural missionaries serving around the world.

Over the next generation, nearly 100,000 students joined campus SVM groups, and over 20,000 of them sailed overseas to serve God among the least evangelized.

As the SVM lost it's passion for world evangelization, other student movements took up the challenge — InterVarsity, the Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, today there is even a SVM2.

Robert and Grace Wilder’s prayers for a student missionary movement are still being answered despite the failure of the original SVM.

Next: Lessons from the SVM