A recent study released by the Review of Religious Research titled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy”, argues that across Canada theologically conservative churches are growing while their liberal counterparts are experiencing decline. This study was brought to our attention by way of a Washington Post article.
What stands out in the study?
Here’s a few things that I think are tell-tale signs of a larger problem within liberal churches.
First, the statistics below show the danger many liberal congregations are fighting: becoming more of a civic organization and less of a church. That is in no way say flippantly or sarcastically. Instead it is a danger I think has existed for the past decade as many theologically liberal congregations and pastors focus on social justice without incorporating the Gospel. Social justice work can be done as a response to hearing the Gospel message, and it should be.
93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.” This compared with 67 percent of worshipers and 56 percent of clergy members from declining churches. Furthermore, all growing church clergy members and 90 percent of their worshipers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers,” compared with 80 percent of worshipers and a mere 44 percent of clergy members from declining churches.
Second, statistics show a stark difference in what the purpose/mission of church is as reported by congregants.
- Evangelism – 29.3 vs. 8.9
- Share divine love – 13.0 vs. 10.4
- Nurture the congregation – 14.2 vs. 14.4
- Social justice – 16.4 vs .31.2
- No answer – 21.2 vs. 35.0
Liberal Christians inability or lack of urgency when it comes to sharing the Gospel message, which can be argued is different from sharing the love of Christ, is a place of concern. This is the result of a variety of things including lack of formal catechesis and moving too far away from conservative evangelicalism.
In the latest episode of Crackers & Grape Juice we tackle this topic from the context of local UMC congregations and campus ministry. At one point we are even able to correlate the decline of liberal churches with the decline of Duke basketball.
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The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A..
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