BY MARK Y.A. DAVIES
There once was a mainline Christian denomination in the United States that was experiencing significant membership decline. Since its peak in membership in the 1950s and early 1960s, this denomination lost millions in total membership despite many intentional efforts to quell the decline. Untold numbers of church growth workshops and trainings and significant investment in consultants to right the course could not turn things around. Membership continued to plummet.
The inability to reverse the decline was met with understandable concern as budgets and ministries were cut. As in all mainline denominations, there were many disagreements, including theological, among the clergy and laity; but nearly all were in agreement that something must be done to increase membership. Without more people in the pews, a once great denomination could become virtually non-existent within a couple of generations.
Then over a 10-year period, something of a miracle happened. After many years of study and strategizing about how to attract new members, the denomination finally began to turn around. Finding the right combination of engaging worship and preaching, community involvement, and programs to help people deal with life’s challenges; the denomination started to regain the membership it had been losing since the 1960s.
Other denominations took notice and learned from the revitalized denomination. Over time, this denomination led a revival of mainline Protestant churches in the United States. Membership boomed, new buildings were built, old buildings were renovated, budgets were increasing, new agencies and ministries were created, ministerial pension plans were in better shape than they had been for decades.
In a relatively short period of time, mainline denominations were no longer looking back with nostalgia at the 1950s. A new day had dawned for mainline denominations in the United States, and the denomination that started the revival experienced growth and prosperity that it had never experienced before. Seminary attendance swelled as the church struggled to meet the demand for all of the new ministers who were needed. Church growth experts lauded the 21st Century as the Century of Renewal for Christianity in America.
Two generations later, the membership of this denomination and all of the other denominations that had benefited from this significant revival saw their membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that the churches had done almost nothing to address.
– Mark Y.A. Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. Click here for more of his essays.