As someone who both cares about the mission of the church and leads a research organization, I watch the trends in the church and the culture. Occasionally, someone asks me to share some thoughts on the big picture—in the case of the North American context, questions related to “streams” of Protestantism.
Based on research, statistics, extrapolation and (I hope) some insight, I notice three important trends continuing in the next 10 years.
Trend #1: The Hemorrhaging of Mainline Protestantism
This trend is hardly news—mainliners will tell you of this hemorrhaging and of their efforts to reverse it.
Mainline Protestantism is perhaps the best known portion of Protestantism, often represented by what are called the “seven sisters” of the mainline churches. Mainline churches are more than these, but these seven are the best known, perhaps:
- United Methodist Church
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
- Episcopal Church
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- American Baptist Churches
- United Church of Christ (UCC)
- The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
They tend to fall on the progressive side of the theological continuum, but there is diversity of theology as well (Methodists, as a whole, are probably most conservative, for example).
Mainline Protestantism is in trouble and in substantive decline. Some are trying to reverse this, through evangelism and church planting initiatives.
However, this is an uphill battle and, as a whole, mainline Protestantism will continue its slide.
According to the General Social Survey (GSS), about 30 percent of Americans would self-identify (through their denominational selection) as mainline Protestants in 1972. Now they are down to 15 percent. In other words, based on the GSS, they lost half their people over 40 years.
Now, the GSS is not the same as membership rolls and attendance numbers, but it does reflect people’s connection. And, if that trend continues, the math does not look good.
Trend #2: Continued Growth of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement
The second thing I think you’re going to continue to see is the continued growth of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement. The Charismatics and Pentecostals have already won the worship war—most churches are now comfortable with what would be “Calvary Chapel” worship in 1980. They are in the process of winning the spiritual gifts debate concerning cessationism, a view which seems in decline in the next generation.