Monday, August 6, 2012

Mainline Protestant Denominations in Decline

Here's an article documenting the decline of the major mainline Methodist and Presbyterian denominational groups.
The United Methodist Church has continued to decline in the United States of America, according to reports released by all but four of the denomination's 59 conferences.

According to the reports, in 2011 the UMC suffered a decline of nearly 72,000 members, with 18 conferences reporting membership losses of 2 percent or more.

Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a practicing Methodist, told The Christian Post that he did not feel confident in the survival of the UMC in America.

"Methodism in the U.S. has lost membership every year since 1964. It has lost over 4.5 million members. There is nothing in its U.S. policies that can or will reverse the decline in the near future," said Tooley.

"My own local church is a very typical U.S. United Methodist congregation. It is selling its Sunday school building for lack of people and finances."
The mainline Presbyterians are also in decline.
The United Methodist Church is not the only mainline Protestant denomination suffering from declining membership in the United States.

In June, the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly released statistics on the denomination showing that the denomination's membership had dipped below 2 million. The downward trend for PC(USA) meant that since 2000, the denomination had lost 20 percent of its membership.

Regarding the decline, Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, pastor to Presbytery for the PC(USA) Presbytery of Pittsburgh, told The Christian Post that the decline was part of the overall decline in Christian church affiliation in America.

"There are many reasons for this decline, including for mainline Protestants a birthrate well below the threshold of maintaining population," said Sorge. Among American conferences, eleven U.S. conferences increased in worship attendance and five conferences gained members.
What will turn things for these denominational groups?  Returning to their roots and a vital, living Christian faith.
Tooley believed that the growth of United Methodism abroad, especially in Africa, would come to influence the theology of the American UMC.

"The African churches now have over 4.2 million members and have been growing at over 200,000 members a year. They have the same evangelistic spark that made Methodism America's biggest and fastest growing church in 19th century America," said Tooley.

"I think there will be a turn around when the African influence begins to reshape the now U.S. based seminaries and church agencies."

...Regarding why the United Methodist Church in America is declining, Brunstetter said that he believes the UMC "has lost some of its evangelistic zeal."

"The heart of Methodism is having a vital heart relationship with God through Jesus Christ which effects a love for people and concern for unjust conditions," said Brunstetter.

"While the Methodist church embraces all kinds of churches at different points along the spectrum, I believe the future of our church is our embrace of that sound theology that got us started, one that I am unapologetic for."
 If the Presbyterians or Methodists embrace the redefinition the marriage, which is the burning issue for some in these denominations,  that will only lock in their decline and mean their eventual demise.  The Presbyterians appear on the road to doing this while the Methodist church may well move in the other direction given the growing influence of African, Asian and Latin America Methodists.

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