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ALPB => Your Turn => Topic started by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 01:31:04 AM

Title: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 01:31:04 AM
From 1970-2000 mainline denominations have experienced dramatic losses, which continue:

UCC - 29.7% loss

ECUSA - 27.3% loss

Methodist - 26.8% loss

PCUSA - 23.7 loss

Primary source: World Christian Database*

"these four mainline sisters share a lot of baggage on their downward trip, including:

    * They all have opened their doors – or are considering doing so – to the ordination of practicing homosexuals. (The PCUSA has a constitutional prohibition against ordaining practicing homosexuals – but de facto approval because leaders of local churches, presbyteries and the national governing body refuse to enforce the constitution.

    * They all emphasize social activism.

    * They all provide the big bucks for faltering ecumenical work, including the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches and Churches Uniting in Christ.

    * They all promote "unity in diversity."

    * Their seminaries have a preponderance of professors who openly scorn orthodox Christian beliefs."

Source: http://www.layman.org/layman/news/2003-news-articles/pcusas-reasons-for-staggering-loss.htm
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Charles_Austin on July 02, 2007, 05:32:30 AM
You will not like this, and I'll only say it once; but statistics interpreted by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, an advocacy group within Presbyterianism, cannot be considered reliable. They are statistics being used and interpreted to promote a particular agenda, and you know what it means when that happens. Then there's the matter of their "original" source for those numbers, which reports statistics for the ELCA in 1970, when the ELCA did not exist.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 07:49:19 AM
Charles indulges in ad hominem:
You will not like this, and I'll only say it once; but statistics interpreted by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, an advocacy group within Presbyterianism, cannot be considered reliable. They are statistics being used and interpreted to promote a particular agenda, and you know what it means when that happens. Then there's the matter of their "original" source for those numbers, which reports statistics for the ELCA in 1970, when the ELCA did not exist.

I respond:
If you believe these statistics are wrong, feel free to provide corrections from what you deem a more "reliable" source.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 02, 2007, 08:16:49 AM
They are statistics being used and interpreted to promote a particular agenda, and you know what it means when that happens. 

No. What happens? BTW, what is their agenda?
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 10:46:30 AM
Eric, you will find their web site interesting. They are working in the PCUSA to try to keep that church body faithful to the historic Christian and Reformed faith.

http://www.layman.org/
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 10:48:54 AM
Oh, by the way, the PCUSA itself documents the precipitous "flat spin" taking place in the liberal mainline denominations.

http://www.pcusa.org/research/reports/denominational_size.pdf
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 10:54:46 AM
Why are the old mainline denominations in a free-fall? This article explains a lot:

http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html

Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 12:16:34 PM
I want to make something very clear here. My remarks about the liberal mainline are in no way intended to be any sort of Schadenfreude on my part. To me these tragic realities of the theological collpase of much of mainline protestantism is a dire warning to all of us to take heed to our doctrine and to be aware of the very same temptation to compromise that beset us all around, constantly. Lord, have mercy.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Erma_S._Wolf on July 02, 2007, 12:45:54 PM
Then there's the matter of their "original" source for those numbers, which reports statistics for the ELCA in 1970, when the ELCA did not exist.

For that matter, Charles, the Presbyterian Church - USA didn't exist in 1970 either.  That merger didn't take place until 1983.  (And I love the "starting dates" for the various denominations!)

Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 02, 2007, 01:11:33 PM
I've read articles that, I think more rightly present church activity as a percentage of the population. (They usually present the decline as even worse than by just looking at membership statistics.) However, while such articles point out that the percentage of Americans attending church has declined in the past 30-40 years, the percentage is not much different than it was prior to World War II. The decades following the war saw an (abnormal?) increase of church involvement. We are settling back down to what had previously been normal. I'm not suggesting that this is good, but it is looking at the bigger picture.

A few years ago there was an extensive research project within the Presbyterian Church. They interviewed thousands of people who had dropped out of the church. One of the researchers' conclusions is that the reason most people left had nothing to do with church doctrines or programs, but just a change in culture and their priorities. Church was just no longer important to them. Other articles have blamed the lack of commitment that is seen not only in decreased church attendance and church volunteers, but also in the lack of volunteers for Boy and Girl Scout troups, little leagues, and even in life-long marriages.

Certainly one can find testimonies of people who left because their church had become too liberal -- and there are testimonies of people who left congregations because they were too conservative. (There are a number of stories of people who left conservative churches for liberal ones in Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass -- the author is one such person and spent three years studying and researching main-line, liberal congregations that are growing.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 01:38:46 PM
Erma, if you have corrections to make to the percentage declines cited, please share that information and your source for it.

Note the other reports I've posted as well.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 01:41:54 PM
Certainly one can find testimonies of people who left because their church had become too liberal -- and there are testimonies of people who left congregations because they were too conservative. (There are a number of stories of people who left conservative churches for liberal ones in Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass -- the author is one such person and spent three years studying and researching main-line, liberal congregations that are growing.



Brian, do you have any sources that show that the more conservative branches of Christianity are losing members at the rapid rate of the mainline liberal denominations? And, here I'm intentionally not including the ELCA, but am looking only at the UCC, UMC, ECUSA and PCUSA?

While it is certainly true that people leave all churches, the reality is that in the past thirty to forty years the liberal mainline denominations have been increasingly and rapidly declining.

Also, please comment on the information posted here about the surveys of belief in the mainline denomination.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Bodenstab on July 02, 2007, 03:04:40 PM
Paul, here's the link that challenges the data quoted in the first reference you give:
http://www.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/6WRUUG7/all_statistics.jsp

A site that raises up the inherent faults in these types of data-gathering systems is here:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_prac.htm

And what the layman.org site doesn't raise up is an in-depth analysis of the data. Instead it offers opinion. The few references that are offered are brought up only to support the opinion. For this kind of analysis to be accurate, both the study and analysis should happen out-of-house. Those who feel strongly will interpret whatever is presented to them in a way that supports what they feel instead of letting the data lead them to new questions.

A more interesting study would look at the PC(USA) congregations which are holding their own or growing in membership and contrast these with those which are declining. This could be truly helpful. Some reflections on such a study in the ELCA are here:
http://reclaimingthefword.typepad.com/reclaiming_the_f_word/2007/06/a_measuring_too.html
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 02, 2007, 03:07:10 PM
An opinion piece in the Calgary Sun:

Bad advice hurting churches
Pews of religions which compromise their theology are quickly emptying

By TED BYFIELD

One of the most rewarding disclosures when the liberal press venture forth into the mysterious world of religion is the astounding ignorance of both its history and its current condition that they so unerringly place on display.

They deliver severe admonitions to bishops and clergy, warning of the calamitous consequences their church will suffer if it does not liberalize its ecclesiology, compromise its theology and sodomize its morality.

Yet the very churches that have done all these recommended things are precisely those suffering such a disastrous exodus of their members that their church's very existence is now in question.
http://calsun.canoe.ca/News/Columnists/Byfield_Ted/2007/07/01/4304520-sun.html

Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 03:32:11 PM
Eric B. .... perhaps you might want to take a look here:

http://www.adherents.com/misc/BarnaPoll.html

There certainly does appear to be a strong link between mainline liberal theology and declining church populations. No, of course it is not the whole story, but one must wonder why churches that offer a more rigorous and more conservative approach to Christianity are experiencing growth, while those that have moved away from that are in such steep decline.



Barna Poll on U.S. Religious Belief - 2001
Original Headline: Poll shows Protestant collapse
Source URL: http://www.vny.com/cf/News/upidetail.cfm?QID=198421
Date: 28 June 2001
By: Uwe Siemon-Netto, United Press International

WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI) -- A new survey of what Americans believe, points to "an absolute collapse of mainline Protestantism in this country," Paul Hinlicky, a leading Lutheran theologian, told United Press International Thursday.

"Hinlicky and McDermott found another result of the Barna survey depressing. Only 33 percent of the American Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists, and 28 percent of the Episcopalians agreed with the statement that Christ was without sin. To McDermott, these numbers indicate an "epochal change in popular theology." He added, "This would suggest a loss of faith in the Divinity of Christ." If this result is accurate, a large segment of the U.S. population was reverting to Deism, a belief system prevalent in 18th century England and shared by leading American thinkers of that period. "Christ would then be no more than the Dalai Lama, an admirable kind of a guy." Deism saw God as one who wound up the clock of the universe and then allowed it to run. Some, but by no means all, Deists were convinced that God does intervene in history. "Benjamin Franklin was certain that God did this so that we could beat the British," McDermott said. "What has brought us to this point is zero theology since the 1960s," Hinlicky explained. Again, this does not apply to the majority of the faithful in the Baptist denominations, the nondenominational, the Assemblies of God, and the Pentecostal/Foursquare churches, of whom 55, 63, 70 and 73 percent believe that Christ is sinless. As for the mainline denominations, McDermott held the cowardice of pastors responsible for the tectonic changes in their congregants' faith: "They are afraid to preach and teach anything that challenges what people already think. The result is a belief in a meek, mild-mannered God who does not want to judge us. That's Deism." "They have given up talking about divorce, abortion and homosexuality," McDermott thundered. "They are even retreating from the Trinity. On Trinity Sunday I was in an Episcopal church, where the rector averred that this was only something for pastors to think about. Ordinary people did not have to bother with it." While most of the sample American queried by Barna still affirmed God as the all-powerful Creator, a mere 17 percent of the Catholics, 18 percent Methodists, 20 percent Episcopalians, 21 percent Lutherans, and 22 percent of the Presbyterians told Barna that they thought Satan was real."
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 02, 2007, 03:42:54 PM
Paul, here's the link that challenges the data quoted in the first reference you give:
http://www.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/6WRUUG7/all_statistics.jsp

A site that raises up the inherent faults in these types of data-gathering systems is here:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_prac.htm

And what the layman.org site doesn't raise up is an in-depth analysis of the data. Instead it offers opinion. The few references that are offered are brought up only to support the opinion. For this kind of analysis to be accurate, both the study and analysis should happen out-of-house. Those who feel strongly will interpret whatever is presented to them in a way that supports what they feel instead of letting the data lead them to new questions.

A more interesting study would look at the PC(USA) congregations which are holding their own or growing in membership and contrast these with those which are declining. This could be truly helpful. Some reflections on such a study in the ELCA are here:
http://reclaimingthefword.typepad.com/reclaiming_the_f_word/2007/06/a_measuring_too.html

Eric, why are you saying that layman.org is only opinion and then givng a link to one of the main gay sites and claiming that they are somehow objective? What is going on?
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: scott3 on July 02, 2007, 03:48:45 PM
Paul, here's the link that challenges the data quoted in the first reference you give:
http://www.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/6WRUUG7/all_statistics.jsp


I'm not sure if you linked the right document.  The one that I'm taken to is an analysis of a single congregation in Washington, D.C. (the National Presbyterian Church) and puts that congregation's membership statistics within the context of a PC(USA) average annual decline of 1.4% for 10 years.

Viz: "From 1996 to 2006, PC(USA) membership has declined by about 1.4% annually." (from your link)
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 02, 2007, 04:50:10 PM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: scott3 on July 02, 2007, 05:07:11 PM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?

Infinite.

But near the end it gets quite small.

:)
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: scott3 on July 02, 2007, 05:18:16 PM
On a less jocular note, after around 21 years you lose 25% of your original membership, and after 50 years you lose around 50%.

I suppose the upside is that each year, the actual number of people that are being bled out goes down.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 02, 2007, 05:46:22 PM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?

Infinite.

But near the end it gets quite small.

:)

I understand there are still four Shakers.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 02, 2007, 05:55:40 PM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?
Forever. Mathematically, if something declines 50% each year, the numbers go on forever. There's some term for such mathematical phenomenon that are true in math, but realistically aren't practical. Another example is to stand some distance away from a wall, and every five seconds move half the distance closer. Mathematically, there will always be a number. Practically, it will become such a small distance that it becomes meaningless, e.g., 1" - 1/2" - 1/4" - 1/8" - 1/16" - 1/32" 1/64" and so on forever.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Bodenstab on July 02, 2007, 08:01:12 PM
Eric S.,
Data is just data. Any reading of the data is inherently interpretation and therefore opinion.

I'm not claiming any objectivity for anyone - not even myself. I wasn't even trying to be adversarial, just sharing some data and research. Whatever the bias of religioustolerance.org, their critiques of the data gathering method used by the PC(USA) are accurate.

Paul,
I know about Barn's reports dealing with the issue of mainilne decline - a dubious label, but the current nomenclature - and chiefly that they point to the fact that most people just don't care to learn about the Bible, their denomination, or anything that may challenge their understandings of what they think they already know. A constantly frightening series of reports that always remind me to focus on the basics so people can get to the place where they can ask intelligent questions.

I was trying to suggest a way of looking at a denomination that might actually be more helpful than the liberal/conservative dialectic. Kelly Fryer's blog article was an example of this approach in the ELCA. And yes, I know she also has a bias. We all do.

Scott,
That is the point of this link. A congregation that is at least holding its own in a denomination which is shrinking in membership. Why is this congregation holding its own? What's going on with the Christian Education? Why is the giving increasing? Asking these kinds of questions of this congregation may help give a clearer understanding of what the data shows and help the PC(USA) figure something out.

I really wish the membership numbers could be ignored, because the numbers which help give an insight into the health and growth of a congregation are average worship attendance and giving, not membership. Although numbers cannot in fact show anything but how much of something was counted. The "true" story of why some mainline denominations are in decline may have more to do with what's happening socially in our country, or the increasing retirement rate of pastors not being replaced, or hippies finally winning now that their in significant leadership positions - there are a lot of possible explanations.

And as the only on here (as far as I know) who actually has a degree in mathematics, I feel bound to say that in statistics, as in all mathematics, everything depends on your initial parameters.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 02, 2007, 08:37:45 PM
Kelly Fryer's blog article was an example of this approach in the ELCA. And yes, I know she also has a bias.
I would say that abandoning your husband and children to set up house with your homosexual/lesbian girlfriend might create somewhat of a bias on these kinds of issues, to be sure.

Quote
as in all mathematics, everything depends on your initial parameters.

I don't have any advance math degrees, but it surely doesn't seem to complicated too understand the enormous membership losses in mainline denominations. I wonder why you are having such a hard time recognizing the reality of these precipitous and ever growing decreases?
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Bodenstab on July 02, 2007, 09:38:47 PM
Paul, you seem to be confusing me with Brian S.  ;)

I just don't think the answers are as pat as presented in the layman.org report.

Where are the people going? Are the increases in some denominations a population shift from those that are declining? What were these numbers like 100 years ago before all these denominations existed? I know some of these can't be determined, but before we start ringing the tolling bell for any congregation or denomination, we all need to make certain the information we're using is as accurate as it can be and that we are aware of our preconceptions. A 1.4% decrease is not insurmountable, and what determines the life of a denomination is not the number of people but the willingness to financially support the organization.

You are taking the data, along with the layman.org report, and using the data to say, "See, we were right, you were wrong." This reveals the initial parameters: 1) liberal theology is wrong, 2) numbers matter more than mission, and 3) the church must exist outside of the sociopolitical influences of the culture of the day. These points are valid for debate (as is my guess at them), but to say that some data proves one of these points is a misuse of the data. For all we know, the PC(USA) might end up growing next year. (However, if one of the preaching points is that worship attendance isn't important... Classic self-fulfilling prophecy.)

And if you read Kelly's blog, she actually supports some of what you're saying.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Erma_S._Wolf on July 03, 2007, 12:17:14 AM
Erma, if you have corrections to make to the percentage declines cited, please share that information and your source for it.

Note the other reports I've posted as well.

Paul, I'm not arguing about the percentage declines cited.  I am well aware that all the mainline churches have been dealing with decreasing numbers for some time.  (As a student at Yale Divinity School, it was well known even in the early 80's that the Episcopal Church USA was losing members at a rapid rate, and even among the Episcopal students the "joke" was that they were going to transform the priesthood of all believers into the denomination where every believer was an ordained priest.)

I received today the latest Christian Century, which has a brief update on the numbers for the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Here are two pertinent quotes:

     "Active membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) continues to drop, registering a dip of about 46,000 members last year to 2.26 million, according to statistics released by PCUSA officials in Louisville, Kentucky....Data also showed that the number transferring their memberships into PCUSA churches exceeds the number who transferred out... However, the significant ongoing trend is few baptisms.  Adult baptisms averaged less than one per church and child baptisms were just short of three per congregation, said [Kristine] Valerius [manager of the PCUSA records]. "Not the formula for growth," she said."  (Christian Century, June 26, 2007, p. 13)

That adds a new piece of information when trying to understand this issue.

Erma Wolf
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 03, 2007, 07:13:56 AM
I'm wondering how it is that a topic like this has been started, has had lively discussion, and is still not showing up at the top of the topics page on the "Your Turn" page?
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Mike Bennett on July 03, 2007, 10:52:01 AM
I'm wondering how it is that a topic like this has been started, has had lively discussion, and is still not showing up at the top of the topics page on the "Your Turn" page?

Why are you wondering that?

Mike Bennett
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: MMH on July 03, 2007, 11:25:26 AM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?
Forever. Mathematically, if something declines 50% each year, the numbers go on forever. There's some term for such mathematical phenomenon that are true in math, but realistically aren't practical. Another example is to stand some distance away from a wall, and every five seconds move half the distance closer. Mathematically, there will always be a number. Practically, it will become such a small distance that it becomes meaningless, e.g., 1" - 1/2" - 1/4" - 1/8" - 1/16" - 1/32" 1/64" and so on forever.

Yes, but we are not dealing with mathematical abstarctions, but with populations.  One of the first things you learn in a population ecology course is that if dP/dt ≤ 0 then the population will die.

No clever mathematical paradoxes or asymptotes apply.

Matt Hummel+
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Bodenstab on July 03, 2007, 12:26:06 PM
Yes, but we are not dealing with mathematical abstarctions, but with populations.  One of the first things you learn in a population ecology course is that if dP/dt ? 0 then the population will die.

No clever mathematical paradoxes or asymptotes apply.

Matt Hummel+
This is only true in a fully closed system. Congregational membership is not a fully closed system because there is population outside of the system which could theoretically become part of the system, and as many endangered species have shown (closed systems, but not necessarily fully closed), if reproduction is possible (a big if, I know), the system could theoretically turn the delta to the positive.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Richard Johnson on July 03, 2007, 12:39:06 PM
I'm wondering how it is that a topic like this has been started, has had lively discussion, and is still not showing up at the top of the topics page on the "Your Turn" page?

I'm wondering why you apparently haven't read the answer to that question, which has been asked and answered at least five or six times over the past few months.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: MMH on July 03, 2007, 01:20:11 PM
Yes, but we are not dealing with mathematical abstarctions, but with populations.  One of the first things you learn in a population ecology course is that if dP/dt ? 0 then the population will die.

No clever mathematical paradoxes or asymptotes apply.

Matt Hummel+
This is only true in a fully closed system. Congregational membership is not a fully closed system because there is population outside of the system which could theoretically become part of the system, and as many endangered species have shown (closed systems, but not necessarily fully closed), if reproduction is possible (a big if, I know), the system could theoretically turn the delta to the positive.

Eric-

1) I was using be to denote the population of denominations, not congregations.
2) You can set the systems as "open" as you want.  If dP/dt ≤ 0, the population dies.  It may take a while, but it is an inevitability.
3) Things can be done to shift the equation, but that is another thread.

Matt Hummel+
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: bmj on July 04, 2007, 01:31:54 AM
I put together the charts below to compare trends in various 'populations' over two time frames (1980-2006, and 1925-2006 for some).

Notes on membership charts below:

* All data 1980-2003 taken from: http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/Families/denoms.asp.  This is the best website I have found for data on religious bodies.  There is much much more you can do with this site than the simple membership charts below.  For instance, compare religion demographics between countries (US-Germany http://www.thearda.com/internationalData/compare/compare_90_234_1.asp).

* The 2006 membership numbers are taken from: http://www.ncccusa.org/news/070305yearbook2007.html

* US Population data taken from http://www.census.gov/popest/archives/1990s/popclockest.txt

* US population is now over 300 million according to http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html

* There is no data equivalent membership number for Assemblies of God in 2006.

* No data computed for PCUSA prior to 1983 merge.

** Data for 1980-1987 for "ELCA" computed by adding membership of LCA, ALC, AEL.


LDS = Mormon
JW = Jehovah's Witness
RCC = Roman Catholic


ELCA + LCMS + TEC Membership 1980-2006 (see notes above on ELCA numbers)
(http://i7.tinypic.com/6ai2vqx.gif)

Including Other Mainline Protestant Denominations
(http://i14.tinypic.com/6ffvu3r.gif)

Including LDS, JW, and 7th Day Adventists
(http://i7.tinypic.com/54jc0t2.gif)

Adding in RCC membership trends 1980-2006
(http://i17.tinypic.com/5x99yjk.gif)

RCC only membership since 1925
(http://i17.tinypic.com/4zu0r51.gif)

RCC + ELCA + US population trends since 1925
(http://i17.tinypic.com/5z530gg.gif)

Overall the population of the top 25 bodies is growing at about .82%.  Sadly the growth rate is below the US population growth rate.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Dadoo on July 04, 2007, 09:20:44 AM
Quick math wizards, if you decline numerically at a rate of only 1.4%, what is your life span?
Forever. Mathematically, if something declines 50% each year, the numbers go on forever. There's some term for such mathematical phenomenon that are true in math, but realistically aren't practical. Another example is to stand some distance away from a wall, and every five seconds move half the distance closer. Mathematically, there will always be a number. Practically, it will become such a small distance that it becomes meaningless, e.g., 1" - 1/2" - 1/4" - 1/8" - 1/16" - 1/32" 1/64" and so on forever.

Brian,

THis is philosophically true but mathematically irrelevant.  Membership numbers have to be integers- whole numbers in other words.  After  one gets to (1) the decline is over since the next decline (1/2) is no longer a integer- it is no longer a real person if you think in real word terms here.  If the ELCA shrunk 50% every year the there would be (1) person left after 22 years- we could theorize who that  person was if you like. 

Peter
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 04, 2007, 01:07:04 PM
Impressive. Thank you. My hat is in my right hand, my head is bowed, you have "out-posted" us all, Br. Dadoo!
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Dadoo on July 04, 2007, 01:17:55 PM
Impressive. Thank you. My hat is in my right hand, my head is bowed, you have "out-posted" us all, Br. Dadoo!

I'm  sorry.. I'll try not to do it again.. :P   ;)

Peter
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 04, 2007, 01:58:46 PM
Also, like a typical Lutheran, you left off pentecostals and it would have been interesting to see a denomo like The Vineyard on it... Good work though.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: bmj on July 04, 2007, 02:30:21 PM
Also, like a typical Lutheran, you left off pentecostals and it would have been interesting to see a denomo like The Vineyard on it... Good work though.

The problem I had was when I looked here - http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/Families/F_94.asp - I really did not know which one(s) to pick.  If you can point me to the "major group(s)" I will add it and post the result.  There are no summary stats for the whole group.

Thanks
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 04, 2007, 02:52:25 PM
Also, like a typical Lutheran, you left off pentecostals and it would have been interesting to see a denomo like The Vineyard on it... Good work though.

The problem I had was when I looked here - http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/Families/F_94.asp - I really did not know which one(s) to pick.  If you can point me to the "major group(s)" I will add it and post the result.  There are no summary stats for the whole group.

Thanks

Sorry, bmj, I thought it was dadoo. Good work.

One of my points is that there are whole denominations which didn't even exist before we began our slide like:

 The Association of Vineyard Churches is a conservative evangelical fellowship founded in 1986 by evangelical teacher John Wimber (d. 1997), formerly associated with Calvary Chapel.

Membership Data
Year Clergy Churches Members
2003 1,200 600 140,000

And, yeah, you betcha, they got plenty of former Lutherans.

http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_1502.asp

The main classic Pentecostal denoms are Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), The General Council of the Assemblies of God (was established in 1914 at a gathering of Pentecostal ministers in Hot Springs, Arkansas), Church of God in Christ (1894).Also, the Foursquare Church of Ammie Semple McPherson should be there http://www.foursquare.org/ Of course there are thousands more!
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 04, 2007, 03:39:35 PM
And, yeah, you betcha, they got plenty of former Lutherans.
Which doesn't grow the kingdom one bit.

I think that a more significant statistic is what percentage of the population are church members and/or attending church on a regular basis. I did that in our area. (Data at http://www.thearda.com/) In one county, between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of church adherents decreased from 31.9% to 30.7%. In the other county the numbers are 29.2% and 25.9%. Even though there are a few congregations who have grown, that growth seems to come primarily from transfers from other churches. The "Christian" witness in the counties is not effective. The harvest is plentiful with 70-75% of the population unattached to any church; but workers are few.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: peter_speckhard on July 04, 2007, 05:41:04 PM
And, yeah, you betcha, they got plenty of former Lutherans.
Which doesn't grow the kingdom one bit.

I think that a more significant statistic is what percentage of the population are church members and/or attending church on a regular basis. I did that in our area. (Data at http://www.thearda.com/) In one county, between 1990 and 2000 the percentage of church adherents decreased from 31.9% to 30.7%. In the other county the numbers are 29.2% and 25.9%. Even though there are a few congregations who have grown, that growth seems to come primarily from transfers from other churches. The "Christian" witness in the counties is not effective. The harvest is plentiful with 70-75% of the population unattached to any church; but workers are few.
Bear in mind that the goal is faith, not church membership. The two go hand in hand in a way, but are not coterminous. Many church members may not have genuine faith and be saved, and many non-members may have saving faith. That is why the proper distinction between law and Gospel is so critical. One former LCMS pastor I know (became a charismatic, claimed to have gotten saved at a revival long after he was a pastor, later defrocked) has as his biggest complaint against Lutherans the idea that the pastors just declare that everyone in the pews is saved, effectively unburdening themselves of the duty of shepherds of God's flock. Though he was messed up about a lot of things, he was onto something about the overly-institutional nature of mainstream denominations. In a way today's Church Growth movement is the opposite of the previous generation's charismatic movement. The charismatics over-emphasized the idea that regular church-goers may not actually be saved, thus creating doubt in many minds where there once had been faith. They spent too much time discerning between Christians and "real" Christians. Today the pendulum has swung and we do not bother with the distinction at all, even though it is important. We no longer distinguish saved and unsaved, but churched and unchurched, with the assumption being that the churched are saved. So the methodology is no longer to get people to repent, but merely to get them in the pews, which means finding out how to lure them there with what they already like. A little bit of God talk justifies a whole lot of nonsense. So, put up a John 3:16 banner behind the goalposts at the game and you can say you had 70,000 in church on Sunday. 
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 04, 2007, 06:12:20 PM
Bear in mind that the goal is faith, not church membership.
What is faith? Can that be our goal? I don't think that it's something we have to give. It is something that comes from God.

How can we know if God has given faith? The sacraments. In some ways, for Luther, the willing reception of Holy Communion indicated faith. He stated that those who, with nothing to hinder them, did not receive communion at least three or four times a year should not be considered Christian.

Thus, when people have gathered together in Jesus' name, have heard the Word proclaimed, and come to receive Christ in the sacrament, my assumption is that God is working in their lives.

Quote
A little bit of God talk justifies a whole lot of nonsense. So, put up a John 3:16 banner behind the goalposts at the game and you can say you had 70,000 in church on Sunday. 
If you could get those 70,000 to respond to an altar call, which for Lutherans means coming forward for Holy Communion, I would say that they have been at church.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 04, 2007, 10:03:34 PM
What is faith? Can that be our goal?

1) "... faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

2) "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"  (Romans 10:14)
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on July 05, 2007, 12:20:15 AM
1) "... faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

2) "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"  (Romans 10:14)
Yes, we proclaim the word. We do not create faith. God does that. If we assume that we are preaching the word of Christ (or law/gospel), do we conclude that everyone who hears has been given faith by God? Isaiah says that God's word does not come back empty (Is 55:11). If so, we would have to assume that every person sitting in church has faith.

I assume, and have said it in sermons, that God is active in every person who is in church that Sunday; that God, in some mysterious ways, brought them to that pew today. I don't see them as people to whom I have to bring God to. (I used to think that when I traveled on gospel singing teams. We viewed the "audience" as people we had to convert.) I think of them as people who may need reminding and reassured that God is indeed part of their lives. (God's presence, like God's word comes as law and gospel. It convicts of sin and it forgives sinners.)
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 05, 2007, 05:48:17 AM
I don't see them as people to whom I have to bring God to. (I used to think that when I traveled on gospel singing teams. We viewed the "audience" as people we had to convert.) I think of them as people who may need reminding and reassured that God is indeed part of their lives. (God's presence, like God's word comes as law and gospel. It convicts of sin and it forgives sinners.)

What a remarkable comment to consider and then place in stark contrast to our Lord's words, "GO and make disciples."

People who are not in Christ do not have "God as part of their lives" other than as the one to whom they are completely dead in trespasses and sins, at enmity with, as lost and condemned creatures.

Ours is the privilege of going and making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them....bringing Christ crucified to them, displaying His bloody hands, feet and side to them and saying, "Behold your God. This is the lamb of God who takes way the sins of the world. Repent and believe the Gospel."

Of course a person who can not affirm and teach clearly the historical facts of Christ's life, death and resurrection and is uncertain that apart from Jesus Christ people will spend all eternity in hell, eternally punished and separated from Christ, then I can understand why this would be considered an antiquated approach and why they take such interest in what progressive scholars have to say about the Bible.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Eric_Swensson on July 05, 2007, 06:09:15 AM
We do not create faith.

Who is this statement aimed at? Who in this forum has ever said that anyone believes this.

One question: Are Lutherans taught, and do they practice, the Word is preached as Law and Gospel, each having its own work, and does not the Law convict us of our sin.

This idea of yours that God is "at work in all people" may not be the antithesis of Law and Gospel, but you would have to convince us that it is compatible.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Charles_Austin on July 05, 2007, 08:10:15 AM
Posted on a couple of recent active forums, with apologies for the repetition:
This will probably be my last posting for some time. (The sound of cheering arises from the galleries.)
1. Tomorrow, five of us have chartered a boat and are heading out into the Atlantic for fish.
2. Parish duties will occupy me a good portion of the week-end.
3. Next week, I meet a dear friend of long standing in New York for a fine meal at a French restaurant we have known for years. This lovely and intelligent woman, raised Roman Catholic, has great compassion for the world and its people, but has felt only rejection and rigidity in the Church. Despite this, she has kept me as a good friend.
4. Then I leave for two weeks in Argentina and Brazil. It has been many years since my last visit and I look forward to the trip.
5. I am “working” at the ELCA assembly and do not think I will take time for online discussion. Much of the assembly will be online; and numerous people from this forum will be there; so I shall leave the reporting and interpretation to them, at least for the time being. I expect the Assembly to be a place where the gospel is rightly (but not perfectly) preached, the sacraments are rightly (but not perfectly) administered and the fellowship and mission we have in the ELCA is discussed, debated, and celebrated and – deo volente – advanced.
6. My faith is renewed daily by the Spirit; but where I once found some stimulation and encouragement in these forums, I rarely do so now. Pastor McCain’s condemnations have, I believe, particularly poisoned the waters here, despite Brian’s patience. I know exactly why the LC-MS considers me a heretic, and I do not need him or others here to continually stab and hammer at the ELCA to teach me that. Eric’s persistent assertions make me fear that he does not know how to love the church body to which he belongs and is not interested in doing so, for he seems to feel that – outside his parish – all is lost. I cannot tell whether the “Hess team” is in the ELCA as loyal critics, or outside as enemies to what the LCA stands for. To me, all this adds up to a  toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging.
No doubt others will disagree. I hope everyone here has a fulfilling summer.

Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Gary Schnitkey on July 05, 2007, 08:41:27 AM
The usual reason for mainline decline is liberalism.  No doubt this contributes to mainline decline.

However, this reason is incomplete.  The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod would not be viewed as liberal.  LC-MS is losing members, particularly in recent years.   

What reasons can be given for declines including the fact that non-liberal denominations are in decline as well.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: 1Ptr5v67 on July 05, 2007, 09:32:51 AM

This will probably be my last posting for some time. (The sound of cheering arises from the galleries.)
. . . . . . . .
5. I am “working” at the ELCA assembly and do not think I will take time for online discussion. Much of the assembly will be online; and numerous people from this forum will be there; so I shall leave the reporting and interpretation to them, at least for the time being. I expect the Assembly to be a place where the gospel is rightly (but not perfectly) preached, the sacraments are rightly (but not perfectly) administered and the fellowship and mission we have in the ELCA is discussed, debated, and celebrated and – deo volente – advanced.
6. My faith is renewed daily by the Spirit; but where I once found some stimulation and encouragement in these forums, I rarely do so now. Pastor McCain’s condemnations have, I believe, particularly poisoned the waters here, despite Brian’s patience. I know exactly why the LC-MS considers me a heretic, and I do not need him or others here to continually stab and hammer at the ELCA to teach me that. Eric’s persistent assertions make me fear that he does not know how to love the church body to which he belongs and is not interested in doing so, for he seems to feel that – outside his parish – all is lost. I cannot tell whether the “Hess team” is in the ELCA as loyal critics, or outside as enemies to what the LCA stands for. To me, all this adds up to a  toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging.
No doubt others will disagree. I hope everyone here has a fulfilling summer.

Last time I checked,  this is a Pan Lutheran Forum,   where a wide variety of opinions and ideas are to be freely asserted and discussed.   In my opinion,  while I may not always agree with Pastor McCain,   I certainly do not view any of his postings as "poison" and/or as having the effect (as asserted by Charles Austin) as "poisoning".      Nor do I feel it is fair for Charles Austin to characterize the  the collective effect of postings by Pastor McCain,  Pastor Swensson,  and Lou and Deb Hesse,   as adding "up to a toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging."

Instead,  I ask myself why Charles Austin is so quick to view their postings in this negative light.      Since Charles Austin feels free to characterize Pastor McCain,  Eric,  and "Team Hesse",  I believe it is in order to characterize Charles Austin.  In spite of his many contributions to this forum, in spite of his outstanding Lutheran pedigree of many decades, (including a reference to part-time journalist),     I have long viewed the effect of his postings on this forum (whether intentional or not - - whether official or not) as fullfiling the role of "mole" for the ELCA bureaucracy.  I submit that it is from this perspective (actual or constructive official staff member of ELCA bureaucracy)  that one can begin to understand why Charles Austin would refer to "poisoning" and "toxic situation that is draining of the spirit rather than challenging."     I have learned not to take offense from any of Charles Austin's postings -  which is possible if one continually reminds one self of the apparent and effective role that Charles has played on this forum.

Also, I note that Charles Austin makes an oblique reference to "working" at the ELCA assembly.     While Charles Austin has often referred to one of his  his vocations as being part-time journalist,   I do not recall Charles ever fully disclosing one of his official positions;  i.e. that of computer review editor for Lutheran Partners  a bi-monthly magazine of the ELCA for the ordained and lay leaders , on matters concerning computer technology and parish work.
http://www.elca.org/lutheranpartners/about/staff.html.   

Therefore,  Charles Austin should disclose whether the "work" that he will be doing at ELCA assembly will be in his official capacity for Lutheran Partners or some other official role (paid or volunteer) for the ELCA bureaucracy.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 05, 2007, 10:08:22 AM
Gary, you raise a very good question about why The LCMS continues to experience declines, small though they may be, the trend is downward.

Some in our Synod say it is because many of our congregations are not "missional" but in a "maintenance" mode.  

The interesting thing however to take a look at when talking about these issues is the average Sunday morning worship attendance. To me, this figure is, from a human perspective, about the best 'guage' of congregational health possible. How many members are gathered around Word and Sacrament, on average, every Sunday?

The smaller and medium sized congregations have the highest percentage of their members coming to church. The large "mega churches" in our Synod [as Lutherans define "mega" at least], have the highest numbers of members on the church rolls, but also have the highest percentage, typically, of their members in fact not attending church.

My take on the "why" of gradual decline is:

Demographic realities of the movement of populations from rural to urban areas.
The general decline in religious commitment.
Birth rates dropping.

And...theological identity/brand loyalty issues.

Let me explain my theory about this.

Thesis: If we give people no clear, compelling reason to be, and to remain, Lutheran...they will not.

In other words, where our Lutheran Church has watered down its message, its unique, specific message that distinguishes Lutheranism from all other confessions, to that extent we are depriving our members of reasons to be, and to remain, truly Lutheran. And, in this situation, of course they will drift away to other denominations and other "experiences."

In a way, I have said it would be like MacDonalds deciding one day to try to start looking like Burger King. MacDonalds franchises do vary from one place to another in some ways, but you never have a moment's doubt where you are and what the basic content is of the product they are delivering. You don't walk into a MacDonald and get handed a Burger King or Wendys product, but you get MacDonalds, without apologies,and without defensiveness about it. They unhesitatingly well tell you that they are your best choice, and will give you reasons why.

It seems to me to be common sense that the degree to which Lutheran Churches attempt to conform themselves to other choices in the crowded "market place" of denominations, to that extent it is only giving our membership less reason to remain committed to the Lutheran Church. To the extent that Lutheran congregations do not clearly teach and instruct their membership why being, and remaining, Lutheran is so important, to that extent, members really have no reason to remain and will, at the drop of a hat, pick up and leave for some other place.

And, finally, I do attribute the decline to a lack of passionate zeal for outreach and mission in reaching out with the unique Lutheran confession and really playing up our uniqueness as Lutherans: we offer a deeply historic life of worship and spirituality, rooted and grounded in the ancient worship of the Church. We offer a real "encounter" with God: sacraments. We offer a deeply comforting message of the Gospel, in all its powerful purity. Historic, genuine Lutheranism offers, in my opinion, the "best of both worlds" of the Evangelical substance that is the Christian Faith, with the catholic style of the historic Christian Church in the West.

I actually believe that Lutheranism is the most well positioned denomination of all, if only we will be bold and passionate about making our unique offerings known and if we would stop just trying to imitate other churches.

Imitation, they say, is the best form of flattery, but it is not good strategy.

So, these are some of my thoughts on the issue of the "why" of decline even in the conservative LCMS, and of course, I believe the same could be said of the decline across the mainline. It seem to the extent that they move away from the traditional "Great Tradition"of historic, orthodox Christianity and replace it with a "progressive" message that ends up watering all that down and turning the Christian Church into, more or less, an extension of the Red Cross or the YMCA or any other social agency in the community [all fine and noble services, mind you], but this is not what the Church is, at its heart and soul. And the extent to which the Church conforms itself to the culture that surrounds it, to that extent it loses it prophetic voice of Law and the heaing voice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For what it is worth, that's my .02 on this issue.

Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Dave_Poedel on July 05, 2007, 06:52:26 PM
Also, (piggy backing on Paul's post above), when I arrived at the congregation I serve a bit over a year ago, I asked our Office Manager for a list of those on our membership rolls, and also a list of those who have not been in church in the past 12 months.

The list of "inactives" was twice the number of those who attend regularly.  So, I made a very concerted effort to contact each of those on our rolls who have not been in church for over a year.  Most could not be found, some had gone to other churches and had not asked for a transfer of membership, some told me to ___ off.

I reported a decline in membership of those who could not be found or declined to return to active participation.

Since then, we have over 90% of our baptized membership in regular attendance at Divine Service, the 10% are regularly visited by me with the Eucharist.  We have gained a few by adult Baptism, a few more by infant Baptism and a few that show up every week, have an orthodox confession of faith, and are contemplating what membership means.

I did the same thing 12 years ago when I was called to a parish with something like 340 on the rolls and 25 in attendance.

So much of our reporting is so inaccurate, and I agree with Paul McCain that Divine Service attendance/shut-in numbers is a truer indicator of the health of the congregation than the "membership".
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: Gary Schnitkey on July 05, 2007, 07:26:02 PM
To the LC-MS list, I would add two observations.  First, LC-MS may get hurt with all the bad publicity associated with the ELCA.  Sexuality concerns likely will keep many orthodox Christians who are not familiar with Lutheran distinctions from walking into any Lutheran church.

Second, the demographic problem may be related to not having an aggressive church building program to match changes in location of the U.S. population.  As an illustration, I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran until a move took me into an area where there were no Missouri Synod churches.  At that time, I joined a church with an ELCA affiliation.  I don’t know how many people find themselves in a similar position, but you will not go to a church that is not there.
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: ptmccain on July 05, 2007, 07:28:50 PM
Dave, thank you for your very important note that we not forget our homebound members who are active saints in the congregation! Such precious saints they so often are who devote themselves to prayer for friends, loved ones, their pastors, their fellow congregants, the church throughout the world and the spread of the Gospel. Such a gift!
Title: Re: The Declining Mainline
Post by: J. Thomas Shelley on July 05, 2007, 07:51:31 PM
Dave, thank you for your very important note that we not forget our homebound members who are active saints in the congregation! Such precious saints they so often are who devote themselves to prayer for friends, loved ones, their pastors, their fellow congregants, the church throughout the world and the spread of the Gospel. Such a gift!

Aye.

Dave, I believe that the better indicator of the health of the congregation is the number of "CCC" (Confirmed, Communing, and Contributing) members; then, from that figure, the percentage of Confirmed members who are CCC and what percentage of CCC are represented by worship attendance.

Paul and Dave, how true of these precious, faithful saints.  One of my older shut-ins has been bedfast from a series of strokes for eleven years now; the first year she was mute, but once she regained her speech she began to ask me about how other folks on the prayer list were doing.  Her sons visit every day....they read the church bulletin and the newsletter to her cover to cover.  And Rod Ronneberg's "Brief Lessons" are prominently displayed on her bulletin board.  Would that the more able-bodied be so faithful-spirited!