The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Mainline decline

Understanding membership drop

Mainline denominations matter. America needs them. Our country is polarized: Conservative religious groups are synonymous with political conservatism, while more liberal groups seem out-of-touch. But mainline denominations—if they hold true to their heritage—provide a place where all kinds of people can live together and learn from each other as Christians.

Black and white, rich and poor, biblical literalists and modernists, political conservatives and liberals—all come together in one body to worship each week. This is critical to the well-being of society. It’s time that mainline denominations celebrate this gift.

michael d. watson<BR><BR>Young worshipers
Young worshipers crowd around Mark Moller-Gunderson during the children’s sermon, a popular part of the contemporary service at Immanuel Lutheran Church. “We’ve been revolutionized by the Spirit,” says Moller-Gunderson, called to join his wife two years ago, about the congregation whose community outreach includes an after-school program. See related story, "What's the future?"
Instead there is worry about declining numbers. We are well aware of the numbers. Conservative religious groups including the Southern Baptists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Assemblies of God have grown dramatically since 1940. At the same time, mainline denominations, including the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church andthe ELCA, all have declined inmembership.

But these trends need to be put in a broader context. Perhaps the figures aren’t quite so bad, comparatively. And maybe shifts in the fortunes of mainline and conservative religious groups are due to factors that have very little to do with being liberal or conservative.

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February issue


Embracing diversity