`Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; `but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!'
Fading away. That seems the reality for traditional churches in the secular West.
America is a bit different. But even in the land of high octane televangelism the trend is undeniable. What to do, what to do...
Over at John Petty's Progressive Involvement blog there's a piece about decline among ELCA Lutherans (and I guess, by extension, among other Protestant bodies). It's an intriguing piece in that John isn't panicking. In fact, despite the stats, John maintains that things are not too bad.
The reasons highlighted for the drop in numbers are:
- lower birthrates among affluent Protestants.
- the flow on effect from 9/11 and the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church.
- reaction against the religious right.
But down here at the bottom of the Pacific the decline of mainline denominations is even more pronounced. Here the vile religious right has never had the undue influence it has had in America. Here we didn't experience 9/11 as a direct attack on our very identity.
Lower birthrates are certainly a factor in Australia and New Zealand, but I reflect that, of those fine young folk who posed with shining faces for their confirmation class photo in the year I officially became a member at St. Matthew's in Hamilton, there are - to the best of my knowledge - no 'survivors'. Not a one.
Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians - dropping (demographically) like flies! Some few may cross over into the happy-clappy fringe churches, but most quietly adjust to life with a relaxed Sunday brunch and no frenzied rush to warm a pew.
John concludes: "We are in decline numerically, and for a host of understandable reasons. We are not in decline as a body of Christians involved in mission. In fact, on that score, you could argue that we are better than ever."
That's optimistic, but I'm not sure it's realistic, but whatever your view it's an excellent piece of writing. Read the post for yourself and see if you're convinced.
(Apologies for the bad link in the final paragraph, now fixed!)