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Has the Last Episcopalian Been Born?

Philip Jenkins, a scholar and Episcopal layman, does the math and finds out that at the Episcopal Church’s current rate of decline, there will be no more Episcopalians [1] by the end of this century. Excerpt:

If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist. We might need a new vocabulary of religious decline. How about church evaporation? That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s. Non-attending notional members will persist for a few years longer, but by the end of the century, we should be talking total disappearance. In that scenario, America’s last Episcopalian walks among us today. At some point, young people contemplating a clerical career will have to consider just how long there will indeed be a church for them to serve.

Read the whole thing. [1] The Presbyterian Church USA, another major liberal mainline Protestant church, one almost the same size as TEC, is declining at an even faster rate [2]. Church statistics from 2011 show that the median age of a PCUSA member is 63, and has been rising. This means half the people in the PCUSA are over 63. This also means that over the next couple of decades, half the PCUSA’s current members are going to die. Are they being replaced?

(By the way, TEC is a younger church, but not by much. A 2011 report said that the average Episcopalian is 57. Same demographic decline too. You might recall that the Presiding Bishop of TEC said back in ’06 that the failure of Episcopalians to have babies to replace dying members is actually a sign of virtue. “We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion,” she told The New York Times [3].)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is also in freefall [4] — the sharpest of all the top mainline denominations; 500,000 left the church after its 2009 decision to approve ordination of gay clergy in committed monogamous relationships. In 2008, the average age of an ELCA congregant was 58 [4]; that has almost certainly risen.

(On the other hand, the conservative Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod is also graying. I can’t find reliable recent stats for the average LCMS age, but I think it’s roughly the same as the ELCA. Pastor Matt Harrison, the LCMS head, speculated [5] last year that the later marriages and much smaller families of LCMS Lutherans has much to do with this.)

Without a doubt the percentage of young Americans affiliating with particular churches/denominations is declining across the board (see Pew’s big study for more). The trend for almost everybody is bad [6], though Mormons and Pentecostals, to the contrary, are growing [7]. Catholics are growing, but this is only because of immigration; if not for Latin American Catholics moving to the US, the Catholic Church in the US would be shedding members at the same rate as the Mainline Protestants. It’s tempting for Christians in conservative churches to look at the rolling collapse of liberal churches and feel affirmed, but leaving aside the duty to basic Christian charity, the situation is much too serious for Christianity on the whole to warrant conservative Schadenfreude.

That said, some churches are in much worse shape than others. Consider that the average age of a Southern Baptist is 49.  [8] Now, Southern Baptists have had some demographic reversals in recent years, but as Ross Douthat wrote [9] back in 2012:

[I]t would take literally decades of decline for conservative churches to come close to sharing liberal Protestantism’s current sickness-unto-death. Consider the following statistics (taken from Rodney Stark’s “The Churching of America” [10]): In 1940, for every 1,000 churchgoers in the United States, 224 belonged to one of four major Mainline bodies (United Methodists, PCUSA Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists), while 77 were Southern Baptists. By 2000, the Southern Baptist share of the churchgoing population equalled the share of those four more liberal churches combined — not because SBC growth was extraordinary (though it was significant), but because the liberal churches’ decline was so astonishingly steep. The fact that the SBC has struggled in the period since those numbers were published tells us something important about the challenges facing even conservative churches. But five years of declining membership [11] is simply not the same thing as a multigenerational (and perhaps accelerating [12]) collapse.

There was some hurt and anger in the comments thread from this weekend’s post making fun of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut’s decision [13] to make a big issue over ceasing to refer to its clergy as “Father” or “Mother,” and to do so as a matter of social justice. I don’t apologize for snarking at that nonsense any more than I apologize for snarking in the past about clown masses in Catholic parishes. Some things don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Besides, as I said over the weekend, the people who suffer the most from this kind of thing are the orthodox faithful still holding on within those parishes or denominations. I count some of these Episcopalians as good friends, and better Christians than I am.

Why does this stuff interest me? In part it’s because I want to learn from the mistakes of others. On Sunday evening we went to a party, where I found myself talking to a new friend, a man who works at the Exxon refinery. I forget how, but we got to talking about a region of Louisiana that suffers from economic and social decline. You drive through there, and you can easily see that towns that once were vibrant are now decrepit, and winding down. We agreed that because these are small towns a lot like our own, it’s important for us not to be complacent about our own economic situation. What happened to those towns could happen to us if we are not careful.

True, some things simply can’t be helped. Those towns, for example, all suffer from the big changes in agriculture over the past few decades. But given these broad shifts in the economy, were there things these towns could have done to have made themselves more resilient? Were there mistakes made that accelerated their decline? These are not simply interesting sociological questions, but for people like me and my new friend, who live in a town and parish that’s beautiful, but that is also not growing population-wise, and that faces pretty serious economic challenges, these questions have to do with the life and death of our community in our lifetime.

It’s the same with churches. Philip Jenkins is right: the last Episcopalian may have been born (though certainly not the last Anglican; there’s a difference). That being the case, it is beyond absurd to see the Connecticut Episcopalians doubling down on the progressivist strategies that have done nothing to arrest the church’s decline, and that have arguably exacerbated it. Why do organizations do things like this?

Example: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that represents most Catholic nuns and sisters in the US, is dying. There are as many American nuns over the age of 90 as under the age of 60; the average age of an American nun is 74. Yet in 2012, the LCWR invited this blissed-out weirdo [14] to be the keynote speaker at its national assembly [15]. (N.B., not all American nuns are affiliated with the LCWR; 20 percent belong to a more traditional organization for nuns. Though the alternative organization represents only about one-fifth to one-sixth of the number of nuns represented by LCWR, the traditionalists are getting most of the new vocations.)

When the rate of decline of your church or religious organization is so steep that it is possible that someone born today may live to see it evaporate, and you have the leadership class of those churches or religious organizations responding with crackpot gestures, what else do you do? It’s like watching those African tribal fighters don gris-gris charms they believe will make them invisible, then go into war against people with real guns.

UPDATE: Mr. Pickwick comments:

Man, does this hit home. My wife and I have bounced back and forth between ELCA and PCUSA congregations for decades now, and we see the phenomenon of decline every Sunday. I really don’t see how my particular congregation is going to keep the doors open 10 years from now; we simply don’t have enough of a younger cohort to step into leadership positions (much less fill the pews).

And yes, fruitiness from the theological Left is part of the reason (in the mainline denominations). But my wife’s LCMS pastor brother sees similar decline in his (very conservative) denomination as well. So there’s something happening churchwide.

To be honest, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I mourn the passing of the traditional church, which nourished me for years on my walk of faith. But that church is almost entirely extinct, replaced instead by three equally unattractive alternatives: from the Left, goofy political correctness. And on the Right, either mindless happy-clappy, seeker-sensitive worship raves or the hardline Tea Party at Prayer. Given those alternatives, sometimes I wonder whether the demise of The Church As We Know It is a godsend.

These days, my wife and I have decreased our reliance on the institutional church for our spiritual nourishment, turning instead to other resources (Mars Hill Audio, books, close friends and such). Is this what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had in mind when he mused about the coming of “religionless Christianity”?

Hector (an Episcopalian) gives an explanation that is simple and wise:

Because, as Georges Sorel said, people make existential choices based as much on myths as on facts. The diocesan convention attendees have a myth that makes sense out of their lives, and unless they’re confronted with a better myth, no amount of facts is ever going to get through to them.

That strikes me as exactly right. The myth (in the sense of the story that helps them make sense of the world) that they believe is not the myth of historically normative Christianity, but the myth of Progressivism. From my point of view, it’s a radically false gospel, in that it cannot be reconciled with historic Christianity. But it has a powerful hold on the minds of many.

Sociologist Philip Rieff, in The Triumph of the Therapeutic, observed that institutions die when they can no longer communicate their core values to the next generation in a convincing way. He said this to support his contention (in 1966!) that Christianity was dying in the West, because we Westerners have become hostile to the ascetic spirit that is inextricable from authentic Christianity, and has been from the beginning. As you know, I believe Rieff was right, and that his being right is not something that traditional Christians should take comfort in, except in this one way: a Christianity that does demand something sacrificial from its followers is not only being true to the nature of the religion, but is far more likely to engender the kind of devotion that will endure through the therapeutic dark age. Aside from its radical theological innovations that are impossible to harmonize with Christianity as it was known for its first 1,900 years, Progressive Christianity has fully embraced the therapeutic mindset, in the sense that Rieff means. It is dying because it cannot convince young people to embrace its values within the institutional churches. It can’t be denied that many of the young do accept the social liberalism embraced by the progressive churches, but it also can’t be denied that most of them don’t see why they have to be part of a church to be socially progressive.

Theological conservatives had better watch out with this. If you raise up young people to believe that the truth of their theological beliefs is determined by the quality of their emotional experience in worship, you are undermining your foundations. Anyway, the universal challenge faced by Christianity in the West is how to communicate its values to a generation whose “myth” is inimical to the Christian message.

129 Comments (Open | Close)

129 Comments To "Has the Last Episcopalian Been Born?"

#1 Comment By JonF On October 27, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

Re: You are confusing the Dark Ages (500-1000) with the High Middle Ages (1000-1400).

Yes, outside a few bastions like Constantinople and Rome itself, Christianity was fairly weak in the early Middle Ages. Conversion of the Germanic and, somewhat later, Slavic barbarians proceeded gradually. The Imperialist Church really doesn’t show up until after the Gregorian reforms.

#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 27, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

Rod,

Thanks for, uh, ‘starring’ my comment about people needing myths to live. I’ve thought this for a long time- it seems to me that one reason that so many people turned to Fascism, of both hard and soft stripes, around mid-century (and afterward) was because it offered a narrative that made sense of their lives. Communism had its mythic elements too: though as a person of the left that myth makes more sense to me than the Fascist one, it’s undeniable that the communists succeeded at winning people’s hearts as much through appealing to their romantic and idealistic senses as through appealing to their reason. One of the things I fear most about the ‘dictatorship of relativism’ is that they will succeed in creating a world without myths.

I’d like to say I really appreciate everyone’s contributions in this thread, especially Turmarion, Thursday and Devinicus.

#3 Comment By WillW On October 27, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

As has always been the case, those of us who do not bow to Baal will be just fine. Romans 11:4 What that might mean for us today? Now that is something we could discuss pretty much endlessly isn’t it?

#4 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 27, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

At one level, the idea of a religion ‘dying’ is kind of strange. If you think of a religion as a set of abstract ideas- like a scientific theory- then a religion can’t die as long as those ideas exist in the form of papers or books. And even if those papers and books were burned, the ideas could be rediscovered. Likewise, a set of ideas like (say) Newton’s differential calculus, or Calvin and Benson’s theory of photosynthesis, or Einstein’s theory of relativity, or Mendelian genetics, or Kekule’s benzene structure, couldn’t ‘die’ as long as those ideas were written down somewhere. We have plenty of examples in history of religious ideas disappearing and then being reinvented, completely independently, centuries later. Modern Unitarianism is in some degree a re-imagining of Arianism, the medieval Albigensians were to some degree a revival of some of the ideas of Marcionism and Manichaeanism, the whole ‘Messianic Jews’ movement (which I find incredibly silly, but whatever, if it floats your boat….) has precursors in the first century controversy about Judaizers, etc.. There is no body of folks in the world that calls itself Arian, but wherever the shade of Arius is today (hopefully repentant, in heaven) if he looked at a Unitarian church today he’d probably recognize a lot of his own teaching in it. In this sense, as long as a set of religious ideas makes sense, one shouldn’t be worried if it appeals to people or not. Ultimately, ‘great is the truth, and it prevails’.

However. Religions are not just abstract bodies of ideas. They’re also communities, and they perpetuate themselves as much through human and personal ties as through their power to convince. The early Christians were convinced partly by the miracles of Jesus, but equally as much by his charisma and character. Part of these personal ties are obviously the ties between parent and child, and in this light one can say that religion is largely heritable. (Both through nature and nurture: the religious instinct itself is largely genetic, but the specific religion one practices is influenced, though not determined, by the way one is raised). Because of this, a religion that doesn’t encourage replacement level birth rates, or something close to it, is going to have serious problems, if not insurmountable ones. The Albigensians, even though they preached that procreation was regrettable, had the good sense not to expect that discipline of their laity: the birth rate in Provence apparently increased during their heyday.

There’s another issue though too: the personal ties that attract a person to a religion can be horizontal as well as vertical. Many people join a church (or for that matter a political party) largely because they want to be part of a community, or because they’re influenced by the charisma, character, or behavior of people in that church or that party: if we didn’t, we could just pray at home and sing along to recorded hymns. And when a community becomes small enough, it no longer has enough exceptional individuals in it to attract outsiders, and no longer has enough of a critical mass to serve as a warm or welcoming ‘home’ that outsiders want to join.

My ‘pet’ heresy, like Turmarion’s, is Gnosticism (or more specifically, the variety of Gnosticism preached by the medieval Albigensians), and one of the things I find fascinating about the history of Christendom is how a remarkably similar set of ideas popped up multiple times over a period of about a millennium, even without much historical continuity between them. And then, how the Albigensian heresy was finally exterminated, for good, through blood and fire, and wasn’t reinvented for the next 700 years. There’s a lot more that I want to read about those episodes of history, but I think the history of Christian dualism underscores both the ways in which ideas sometimes can survive the demographic collapse of their adherents, and sometimes can’t.

#5 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 27, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

Re: Whether the Episcopal Church would join in such a union depends on its willingness to break with Canterbury. Will World Anglicanism follow the path of its American branch, or go the way of its growing African branch?

Anglicans in South India actually merged with Methodists and some other Protestant groups quite a long time ago, into something called the Church of South India. (My uncle is an evangelical pastor in India- I think some variety of charismatic Methodist- and I’m not sure how the individual denominations interact with the overall Church of South India exactly).

#6 Comment By Devinicus On October 27, 2014 @ 9:22 pm

VikingLS asks

Could you clarify what you mean by voluntary institution?

Sure. A back-of-the-envelope definition is any institution which is neither market nor state. It is not your employer nor a market-based supplier of your goods/services nor a state institution nor one in which the state compels you to participate. They are the bones and sinews of “civil society”.

And they are all dying.

#7 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

“If Christendom fades from Europe, it won’t be because we lost a breeding race, it will be because we lost the battle for hearts and minds and souls.”

It’s easy to lose a battle you’re too embarrassed to fight.

#8 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2014 @ 9:55 pm

“The problem is that European Christians aren’t doing enough hatching.”

White European and European Christian aren’t the same thing.

#9 Comment By VikingLS On October 27, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

Devinicus

Well what I thought of was that my grandparents were both committed to recreational clubs and neither my parents nor I (or my siblings and cousins) seem to be able to find any time for such things. Despite Peg’s analysis my religious community is my only non-work social activity and I suspect that’s true for most of the parish.

#10 Comment By Peg On October 27, 2014 @ 10:36 pm

Despite Peg’s analysis my religious community is my only non-work social activity and I suspect that’s true for most of the parish.

Honest curiosity: In light of my analysis, would you consider yourself someone who joined more for social contacts, or are you one of the faithful, who joined for faith and who then *continues* to find the social community worth your time and dedication?

You see, my thesis is based on the supposition that a lot of those falling away in comparison to prior generations, are falling away because they would not ever have been the profoundly faithful, and secular options answer their other needs as well or better than a church could.

#11 Comment By Anand On October 27, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

Hector,

I liked to describe my old Church of South India church as “amateur night at the Anglicans”… we were great on participation, not so much on reverence…

In the US the CSI has partnered with the American churches, including Presbyterians and Episcopalian. One of the interesting partnerships was in Woodridge, NJ, which now follows the Episcopal liturgy every Sunday, and the CSI liturgy in Malayalam every other Sunday.

-Anand

#12 Comment By Anand On October 27, 2014 @ 11:54 pm

My sense of the Episcopal Church right now is that it’s drawing from three main sources.

1. The activists. These are the ones you like to mock. Though in some cases, they are really devoted to the ministries, if not the doctrines, of the church.

2. The ex-Catholics. We have a number of folks who came to the Episcopal Church after either marrying outside the Catholic faith or after divorcing. For all the heavy breathing about what the recent synod means for the Catholic Church… it seems to me the ECUSA is the church that should really be concerned here. Especially those who are leaving the Catholic church after divorcing spouses who abused them or abused alcohol or drugs.

It’s not just laity either. A number of ex-Catholic priests who left the church to marry have found themselves in the Episcopal Church. (Our former associate rector was an example and was one of the finest pastors I’ve known).

3. Ex-fundamentals/liberal evangelicals (I’d count myself here). Brian Maclaren is a particularly high-profile example. I have a deep affection for the evangelical church. However, a lot of it is what my wife describes as “high-serotonin religion”. Great if you like getting pumped up. Not so good if you have a chronic disease or tend to melancholia. The sacramental emphasis of the Episcopal church can be very helpful for these folks.

My sense is that the latter two groups are pretty hungry for the “via media” that the Anglican tradition represents, and are very concerned about passing it on to their kids. The question is whether the Episcopal Church is institutionally capable of producing priests who will meet those needs.

[NFR: An interesting distinction you make, re: those who are devoted to the ministries but not to the doctrines of TEC. I think that’s a dangerous thing. — RD]

#13 Comment By bill stout On October 28, 2014 @ 12:07 am

Certainly the overall statistics for denominations are depressing. However, in every denomination a few churches are reinventing themselves, surviving, or even thriving. I foresee the surviving churches becoming more like community centers where a core of religious believers organize a variety of useful services for many who do not share their faith. This is in line with early Chistian traditions of service to the community as well as focus on spiritual growth of members and evangelism/service to nonmembers.

#14 Comment By Gretchen On October 28, 2014 @ 1:01 am

millennials-godless-politics-religous-conservatives
It’s not just the progressive denominations – evangelicals are losing ground, even in the South. The fastest-growing “denomination” is unaffiliated. I think one reason a lot of people go to church is that it’s expected, and that everyone else does it. Once it’s no longer expected, these people will drop away.

#15 Comment By Irene On October 28, 2014 @ 2:44 am

It makes sense that churches that undergo a meaningful change in doctrine or worship style will decline. All who are resistant to the changes will certainly leave. And, of course, there’s no reason to think there’s an equal or greater number of potential converts who had been waiting on the sidelines for such changes to occur before joining the church. But people who leave a church because it has become too progressive don’t leave Christianity; they simply find a different church that is more to their liking. Thus, progressivism in churches is almost certainly not the cause of the overall decline in Christianity in the U.S. More likely, progressivism in church is a response to that decline.

So, if all churches are experiencing significant decline, we’re likely to learn more about the state of Christianity in America by examining those churches that have changed the least, but are still in decline. There’s no reason to believe an orthodox doctrine is the cause of their decline because (1) they’re not declining as fast as non-orthodox churches, and (2) they’re actually gaining members who’ve transferred from other churches that adopted progressive changes. And, of course, we can’t blame a progressive doctrine because these churches don’t have one.

So, why have some people stopped identifying as Christian and why would someone who is not a Christian want to become one? I don’t know, but I sincerely doubt many people lose their faith in Christ because of doctrine. I also doubt many of them become Christian because of doctrine.

#16 Comment By Richard Parker On October 28, 2014 @ 3:45 am

“I have been in parishes that boomed when a charismatic priest was in charge and then busted just as hard when a less charismatic successor followed…”

I have seen the same cycle in chess clubs, several times.

#17 Comment By Anand On October 28, 2014 @ 5:19 am

[NFR: An interesting distinction you make, re: those who are devoted to the ministries but not to the doctrines of TEC. I think that’s a dangerous thing. — RD]

As opposed to those who are devoted to doctrine, but not to ministry? Seems to me that Matthew 25 makes pretty clear where Jesus lined up on which was more dangerous.

Jesus did say that those who took away from the law would be “least in the kingdom of heaven.” Note though, that they are part of the kingdom. Those who say “Lord, Lord” but have no ministry are told “Get away from me ye workers of iniquity.”

And I’d also say there are doctrines and practices and then there are commandments. Jesus spent a fair amount of time pointing out the difference. Like calling priests “Father”… a practice specifically forbidden…

Caveat: I do agree that a lack of devotion to doctrine is a problem when we’re talking about clergy- and a big one. But frankly there are a lot of us orthodox laity (at least where it comes to the Nicene Creed) who need the kick in the pants that the liberal activists provide. Like the woman in my congregation who helped establish a child sponsorship program in Haiti that has put hundreds of kids through school over the past 25 years- and is a fan of Spong (who I abominate).

#18 Comment By VikingLS On October 28, 2014 @ 6:52 am

Peg I’m a lifelong church goer. The social aspect of church is not supposed to be separate from the Christian faith, that goes back to Acts. At times my spiritual drive is higher or lower but it’s not an either or.

Now I would argue that the social function a church provides, providing a supportive community beyond the family, is at best being replaced by workplace communities, but more often is simply not being replaced at all.

#19 Comment By Benton On October 28, 2014 @ 8:39 am

I’ve found all the recent talk about TEC here interesting, namely because I’ve recently started attending an Episcopal church. This comes after not having attended any church regularly since I graduated from college a few years ago. And so, now I find myself in a church a good deal more liberal than the particular Methodist church in which I was raised. That did give me some hesitation. But, I accepted that, realizing it would be true of all of the churches in my range with the exception of the Baptists who meet in a high school gym. That didn’t seem like my thing either. Upon seeing my alternatives as “Liberal Church A”, “Liberal Church B”, and so on, I saw the same appeal in TEC as described by Anand in his ex-fundamentalist/evangelical category though I’m neither. I have come to appreciate liturgy, communion, and these things which TEC does pretty well, making it a valuable addition to my Sunday routine so far.

Perhaps TEC is singled out because they’re on the edge of progressivism, at least in the media, but that not need be the case on the local level. Supposing that Methodists and other mainlines catch up in progressive doctrine and granting that it’s bad bad bad for the sake of argument, it seems like TEC might have a unique relative advantage. At worst, these growth trends are S-curves in reverse, and TEC just hit the steep decline first. I can’t help but think other mainlines would bottom out at even lower levels in the limit when they don’t have the appeal of even a sacramental element.

And for the record, I’ve yet to be offended by anything I’ve heard during services.

#20 Comment By AnotherBeliever On October 28, 2014 @ 9:24 am

Christianity has survived and even thrived under conditions more inimical than ours. And it will continue to. It’s not going away. It may shrink to a small witness in our culture, a voice crying in the wilderness. Or it may shift its form again and experience a renewal. Our responsibility is to keep living the Gospel regardless, to stay so plugged in to the Spirit that is our lifeblood and the sustaining strength of our faith, so that if anyone asks for the reason for the hope that we have, we can answer according to that same Spirit. This will require constant prayer and humility and openness to and trust in God’s will.

It’s not our strength or goodness, not our institutions, not our leadership, all if these can fail at some point. It’s the Holy Spirit, which intercedes on our behalf before God, which stirs and moves where it will, and changes us and the world again and again. God’s Word does not return to him empty, does not fail, but accomplishes the purpose he wills. It’s out of our hands, and always has been.

#21 Comment By Turmarion On October 28, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

AnotherBeliver at 9:24 AM wins the thread.

#22 Comment By Connie On October 28, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

three percent of a church with 700,000 members is a lot more than three percent of a church with 1.8 million members.

So Rod thinks he pays more sales tax on a $100 bottle of wine than on a $2000 bottle. Ow, ow, ow, it burns. Not good at math, ok; but there’s no excuse for not trying to think about it. That isn’t math, that’s just logic!

#23 Comment By Michael Sheridan On October 28, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

Reading AnotherBeliever’s comment (which like Turmarion I thought quite good), I was reminded of a response I had last year to another of your pieces in this same vein: [16]:

Reinhold Niebuhr said, in his An Interpretation of Christian Ethics, (1934),

“Only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations.”

C.S. Lewis’s memorable devil Screwtape on this same line, in The Screwtape Letters:

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,

Your affectionate uncle
SCREWTAPE

#24 Comment By bsmietana On October 28, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

Almost every denomination where most of the people are white is in decline. The LCMS, staunchly conservative, declined by 10% in the last decade. ( [17]). Southern Baptists are declining too. Much of this is demographics–white people are having fewer kids. Young white people are also more likely to be “Nones” that young people of color. ( [18])

#25 Comment By bsmietana On October 28, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

America is becoming more diverse and less white, and churches that are able to connect with a diverse community are more likely to be thriving.

#26 Comment By JonF On October 28, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

Re: Young white people are also more likely to be “Nones” that young people of color.

There’s also an income gradient present in white people when it comes to religious observance: up to a point, the higher one’s income the more likely it is that one is a church-goer. This is not present in other populations: poor blacks and wealthy blacks for example, are about equally likely to attend church.

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 30, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

“There’s also an income gradient present in white people when it comes to religious observance: up to a point, the higher one’s income the more likely it is that one is a church-goer. This is not present in other populations: poor blacks and wealthy blacks for example, are about equally likely to attend church.”

I think you will find these data sets helpful.

[19]

[20]

[21]

[22]

[23]

#28 Comment By Robert E Cook On July 17, 2015 @ 10:42 am

commented on this post in my new blog post series on the Shrinking Church. Thought it might be worth a look.
[24]

#29 Comment By Paul On March 24, 2016 @ 10:41 pm

I wonder if this fall off is not a combination of consumerism and a lack of consequence. Many think and say that we don’t need God now cause we’ve made Heaven on earth. We have gadgetry and possessions – we’re happy and fulfilled (but they aren’t really). And when when we stop attending and or believing there was no hell fire and brimstone, the sky does not fall in, there was no frazzle dazzle.

With these two things developments, the millennials say that faith and specifically Christian faith is hog-wash and it only curbs people’s lives and personalities.

For these people faith means nothing,cause it’s non-consequential (nothing happens when we stop believing)and it’s intangible (can’t touched or seen)

Just a thought!