When they set out to find growing mainline churches, sociologist David Haskell and historian Kevin Flatt did the logical thing – they asked leaders of four key Canadian denominations to list their successful congregations.
It didn’t take long, however, to spot a major problem as the researchers contacted these Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian and Evangelical Lutheran parishes.
“Few, if any, of the congregations these denomination’s leaders named were actually growing,” said Haskell, who teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University in Branford, Ontario. “A few had experienced a little bit of growth in one or two years in the past, but for the most part they were holding steady, at best, or actually in steady declines.”
To find thriving congregations in these historic denominations, Haskell and Flatt, who teaches at Redeemer University College in Hamilton, had to hunt on their own. By word of mouth, they followed tips from pastors and lay leaders to other growing mainline churches.
The bottom line: The faith proclaimed in growing churches was more orthodox – especially on matters of salvation, biblical authority and the supernatural – than in typical mainline congregations. These churches were thriving on the doctrinal fringes of shrinking institutions.
“The people running these old, established denominations didn’t actually know much about their own growing churches,” said Haskell, reached by telephone. “Either that or they didn’t want to admit which churches were growing.”
I found that fascinating, the growing churches, are simply putting their head down and growing the church, but they are not really telling the hierarchs what they are doing. I can’t say I’m surprised, though, I can remember when I was a trustee of my home church, even the council paid no attention to the mission fundraising, we were a fairly conservative E & R church in the maelstrom of the UCC, it was not a happy combination. You know, we traditional types were not enamored of supporting Dr. Jeremiah Wright, who was and is a part of the UCC. Continuing:
In growing congregations, all the clergy interviewed said it was crucial to encourage non-Christians to convert. In declining ones, only half the clergy agreed.
The study found that, in growing churches, pastors were even more orthodox than their congregations. In declining ones, the pastors were even more liberal.
Growing congregations were likely to be younger and have more children.
I don’t really think I have much to add to that, except that I told you so, and so did a lot of others here. A lot of the mainstream churches have become political clubs, or as I said once, coffee shops full of do-gooders, not houses of God. Well, the ones that remember the mission seem to be progressing in the mission.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?