Mainline Protestant churches in the United States have declined dramatically since the days of Eisenhower—from more than 80,000 churches in the 1950s to only about 72,000 today, according to a new report released by The Barna Group in early December.
No longer can the six major mainline denominations boast holding the majority of American congregants. According to the report, which was based on several national telephone surveys comparing data from studies conducted in 1998 with statistics from a new 2008 study, membership in mainline churches has taken more than a 25 percent dive. Only 15 percent of all American adults associate with a mainline church today, researchers found.
In addition to addressing the decline in mainline churches, the Barna report also examined the changes in the types of people who attend them as well as in the clergy overseeing them.
For example, the study noted, mainline churches are not doing a good job of attracting young adults and minorities. With more than one-third of mainline attendees being age 60 and above—and with the number of Hispanic and Asian congregants running at only 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively—the mainline church, it seems, is aging fast and not keeping pace when it comes to racial diversity.
One wonders if an aging clergy has something to do with those figures. Ten years ago, researchers noted, the average age of mainline senior pastors was 48. Now it’s 55. According to the study, this occurred because not enough young pastors are entering vocational ministry, and too many older pastors are refusing to retire.
For the full report, visit www.Barna.org.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles.