A Retort on Mainline Decline

A reader challenges my perspective on the
roots of decline in Mainline denominations

A reader of Perspectives differs with me about the roots of the decline of The United Methodist Church and wrote a response that I think is worth sharing with you.


I recently read your blog entry on the decline in membership in the mainline denominations. While I share your frustration at the repetition of this theme in the media I do not share you analysis. The entry implied that the cause of the decline of Protestantism to the growth in Evangelical Churches is primarily due to the fertility rates of the parishioners. I find this logic to be false. The case made in the blog does not match the experience of the United Methodist Church.

In 1968 when the present incarnation of the Methodist Church was formed there were 13 million of us in the United States. This represented about 7% of the 185 million people living in the US. Today Methodists account for only 8 million of the 300 million Americans, or 2.67%. The decline in absolute numbers cannot be attributed to a lower relative growth rate. ( Are the Lutherens, Methodist, and Presbyterians the only demographics in our country with a decline fertility rate?)

In the California-Nevada conference the decline is even more pronounced. There are currently 87,000 members among the 10 million soles living in Northern California and Northern Nevada. The rapid increase in population in California as been met with constant decline in the Methodism. The conference reports that on any given Sunday only 45,000 Methodists attend worship service. That means that this Sunday more people will pay $65 ( plus parking) to see two of the worse teams in the NFL ( Oakland and Houston) play football than worship the living God with the Methodists.

The need for the church is immense in the US. The mainline denominations are doing something wrong if we are in decline during this period of need. Either we are not reaching out to fulfill our mission OR we have lost our way. As soon as we stop ignoring the problem and begin to look honestly at what we are doing the recovery process will begin.

Best Regards

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