Former UCC president John Thomas was in Denver recently to talk to clergy and laity about the future of mainline churches like the UCC - adding that every mainline church (United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and more) has experienced relentless decline in numbers since 1968 when all their foundations from being at the center of the culture began to shift.
He cited these external challenges:
1) low birthrate and smaller families among this group of denominations
2) the religious "bubble" following World War 2 was unsustainable. We are really returning to similar rates of religious participation in the history of the U.S.
3) cultural support for churches has collapsed. There is no more "sanctity" of Sunday morning, for example.
4) greater "competition." Catholics are no longer "ethnic enclaves" and evangelicals have become more mainstream. And evangelicals have created competing "bureaucracies" such as World Vision instead of Church World Service, and many others
5) the Institute for Religion and Democracy took aim to try to destroy the National Council and World Council of Churches, labeling them communist and worse, and helped by the likes of Reader's Digest and 60 Minutes with misleading and vicious accusations
6) small town America has declined, where small towns may have 4-5 different churches that are similar but different denominations
7) the urban/suburban shift left many large churches in an inner city island that got smaller every year
8) we are in a greater spiritual marketplace and people are choosing individual approaches to combine religious insight from a larger pool
9) people are used to shopping in Big Box stores, so why not churches
In the next post, I will identify John Thomas' Internal Reasons for Decline