Author Topic: The Declining Mainline  (Read 5372 times)

Eric_Swensson

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #15 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?

scott3

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #16 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)

Eric_Swensson

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #17 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?

scott3

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #18 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.

:)

scott3

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #19 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.

Eric_Swensson

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #20 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.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2007, 05:57:21 PM by Eric_Swensson »

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #21 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.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Eric_Bodenstab

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #22 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.

ptmccain

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #23 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?

Eric_Bodenstab

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #24 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.

Erma_S._Wolf

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #25 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

ptmccain

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #26 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?

Mike Bennett

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #27 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
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MMH

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #28 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+

Eric_Bodenstab

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Re: The Declining Mainline
« Reply #29 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.