Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A New Exodus? Americans are Exiting Liberal Churches

Last week, I posted an article from Britain about the numerical decline in mainline Christian denominations and the contrast with churches that are energetic and growing (How to Get the Punters in the Pews, Monday, June 6, 2005). Now comes this column by Southern Baptist Seminary President, Albert Mohler, with news of a book documenting an outright exodus from liberal mainline churches in the U.S. When will they (we) learn?

A New Exodus? Americans are Exiting Liberal Churches
by Albert Mohler
The Christian Post

"We have figured out your problem. You're the only one here who believes in God." That statement, addressed to a young seminarian, introduces Dave Shiflett's new book, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. The book is an important contribution, and Shiflett offers compelling evidence that liberal Christianity is fast imploding upon itself....
"Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity," Shiflett asserts. This author is not subtle, and he gets right to the point: "Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public--people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe--go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister's political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood...."

...Citing a study published in 2000 by the Glenmary Research Center, Shiflett reports that the Presbyterian Church USA declined by 11.6 percent over the previous decade, while the United Methodist Church lost "only" 6.7 percent and the Episcopal Church lost 5.3 percent. The United Church of Christ was abandoned by 14.8 percent of its members, while the American Baptist Churches USA were reduced by 5.7 percent.

On the other side of the theological divide, most conservative denominations are growing. The conservative Presbyterian Church in America [PCA] grew 42.4 percent in the same decade that the more liberal Presbyterian denomination lost 11.6 percent of its members. Other conservative denominations experiencing significant growth included the Christian Missionary Alliance (21.8 percent), the Evangelical Free Church (57.2 percent), the Assemblies of God (18.5 percent), and the Southern Baptist Convention (five percent).

As quoted in Exodus, Glenmary director Ken Sanchagrin told the New York Times that he was "astounded to see that by and large the growing churches are those that we ordinarily call conservative. And when I looked at those that were declining, most were moderate or liberal churches. And the more liberal the denomination, by most people's definition, the more they were losing...."

Read the whole story.

The column is also available on VirtueOnline, and I have archived a copy here.

5 comments:

Dymphna said...

I seldom recommend a book without having read it. However, I can say without qualification that Shiflett is one of the best writers around. He's right up there with any of the first-rate analysts today.

Needless to say, I will be ordering this book today. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out a way to stay in the pew besides putting Crazy Glue on my gluteus maximus and cotton in my ears.

Here's my decision so far: I'm in the pew until the Episcopal Church decides to follow those other mean-spirited, holier-than-thou Pharisees who so loudly and publicly dis-invested themselves of anything to do with Israel. Should that happen, I will take it as a *sign* to be gone...

When will American protestants learn to play both sides against the middle? I don't mean that in a disparaging way, I mean it to point to the way Catholicism does things. Even as it praised socialism, the Roman church managed to keep a hand in with free-market capitalism (see the Acton Institute).

The only place the church never managed to gain the ascendancy was in Haiti. Instead of co-opting the local deities, they co-opted the Church. And we can see where that got Haiti. One has only to compare and contrast the Dominican Republic with Haiti to make oneself believe in the devil. No human hand could have been that perverse.

townsend said...

I'm quickly putting this book on my summer reading list. Several parishioners I have spoken with say that this is one of the most candid, to the point, books about the present situation with people "escaping" liberal churches. Thanks for the post.

Author said...

Sanchagrin was "astounded"? It is not news that the oldline churches are in terminal decline. The bottom line is that - as institutions - these denominations are incapable of articulating a vision that engages the next generation.

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NoTONoEagles said...

Help Mommy, there are Liberals! underneath my bed!!! (No, seriously, that's the name of the book...) Don't believe me? The dang thing's on Amazon, not some hippie-press bullcrap ;) Anyway, thought you might enjoy, pinko ;)