Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The view from the denominational trenches

I read a very interesting post this morning at The Aquila Report, an site designed for confessionally Reformed/Presbyterian Christians. The post I read was titled The Future of the PCA and it looked at the grim path the PCA is finding itself on and how it got there.

The “why” is instructive. The PCA is facing a lot of the pressure that most of American evangelicalism is facing, i.e. they are a mostly white, middle class denomination in a country that is rapidly becoming less white and probably less middle class and that is certainly less attracted to traditional worship services, denominational distinctiveness and hard-core theology. The facts are pretty indisputable, the question really is what to do about it.

I think it is interesting to see the response. Some of it is predictable. Younger generations are not interested in “doing church” in the traditional way so what the PCA should do is….plant more churches to “do church” in the traditional way. Huh? Some of it is more hands in the air surrender. We are who we are and that is not changing so decline is inevitable.

The PCA is one of the primary Reformed denominations and like a lot of what you find in the Reformed movement it is a pretty heavily white, middle class, well-educated crowd from what I have observed (look at the crowd at T4G and you will see 5000 men that look by and large like me, except taller and not dressed as snappily). The decline in the PCA is easier to see because it is a much smaller denomination than some of the other biggies like the Southern Baptist Convention but the trajectory is the same. Show me a new Southern Baptist church plant and you will likely be showing me a church without the word “baptist” in its name.

Denominational American Christianity is dying. That is simply a fact and that is not a bad thing by and large. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but certainly I think in my children’s, denominationalism will largely cease to exist. This will occur for no other reason than the lack of people to populate churches. When you look at Europe and see the tiny percentage of people who are churchgoers, you can quickly surmise that we are not going to be able to support dozens of different churches in every town to choose from. Towns with five different flavors of Baptist/evangelical churches and three Presbyterian churches and a couple of Methodist churches are not in the cards.

So what does the future look like in American Christianity? I think consolidation is going to continue to be the name of the game in many corners as larger, higher production value churches continue to attract people especially in the more affluent suburbs. On the flip side, in rural America and urban America I see the opposite happening. Smaller churches and house churches will become more numerous. Many towns in rural America are dying out and many cities are becoming largely vacant. There simple are not going to be enough people and enough money to support a typical evangelical church of 100-150 people, a building and a paid minister. People are going to have to drive to a centralized bigger church or get really simple and small.

What do you think? What does the future of Christianity in America look like 20, 30 or 50 years down the road?

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