The Slow Collapse of Mainline Protestant Churches in the US

on July 24, 2010

AP: “Congregations Struggle in Aging, Decaying ChurchesA Methodist church whose congregation once numbered more than 10,000 members has fallen to under 400 today—a decline reflecting the slow collapse of mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

The Associated Press covers the increasing difficulty many mainline (generally theologically liberal) churches face gathering the financial support to pay for costly upkeep to aging church buildings. While paying for the maintenance of old buildings is not exclusively a difficulty for mainline churches, the article reminds us of the sad “de-Christianizing” of the United States over the course of the twentieth century.

It is unlikely that a single explanation accounts fully for the decline of mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

In Detroit—the home of the Methodist congregation mentioned above—there are now only 16 Methodist congregations, compared to a high of 77. “[The United Methodist Church’s] decline in fortune is mirrored among Protestant denominations like the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, which have seen membership drop in recent decades while the average age of remaining worshippers gets older,” writes the AP’s Tom Breen.

Robert Jaeger, executive director of the Partnership for Sacred Places, adds, “A lot of these churches have shrunk from 500 members to 100 members, or from 800 members to 200 members. They look at the trend lines and they see the decline in membership and wonder, ‘Gosh, in 10 or 15 years are we going to be gone?’” Jaeger’s group recommends churches open their doors to more community programs to help foot the bill of ongoing maintenance.

It is unlikely that a single explanation accounts fully for the decline of mainline Protestant churches in the U.S., given that some other denominations have declined while some mainline churches remain strong. Nonetheless, Answers in Genesis believes that those churches’ general abandonment of the historicity of the Genesis account is partly to blame. By compromising on Genesis, churches (including most of the mainline denominations) undermine the power of Scripture as well as the gospel itself, with the truth of God’s Word replaced with Bible “stories.” Compromise has not succeeded in drawing seekers to the church, contrary to what compromising Christians often claim.

Note: Next month on this website, we will be posting a front-page web article from a Bible-believing/creationist Methodist pastor, who will comment on the creation/evolution issue and how it has affected his denomination’s spiritual health.


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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.