The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'God gap'

Robert D. Putnam says it's narrowing and may give the ELCA an opportunity to grow

A historically unprecedented "God gap" that developed in the past 20 years, characterized by a high correlation between church attendance and the rise of evangelical nondenominational worship, should start to narrow soon. And the ELCA may be in a position to benefit from the transition, said Robert D. Putnam, co-author with David E. Campbell of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Robert D. Putnam
Robert D. Putnam

The book explores how the role of religion has changed in the past 50 years and the resulting effects on U.S. democracy and civic life.

Putnam, a Harvard political scientist who authored the best-selling Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, 2001), spoke at a Nov. 4 panel discussion at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, sponsored by Wheat Ridge Ministries and co-hosted by Partners for Sacred Places. Wheat Ridge helps seed new health and human care ministries in Lutheran congregations, agencies and other church-related nonprofit organizations.

Though today's politics are polarized, Richard Herman, president of Wheat Ridge, said the organization saw Putnam's book tour as "an opportunity to bring people together throughout the religious community in a positive way. Perhaps it opens an opportunity to conduct a dialogue about how the faith community can work together for the common good."

Furthermore, faith communities in the U.S. tend to be organized around a congregation's structure, and that echoes Wheat Ridge's experience in the Lutheran tradition.

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