Religion in a Changing World: Comparative Studies in Sociology

By Madeleine Cousineau | Go to book overview

churches are not sending money to denominational centers and to denominational programs the way they did two or three decades ago. Every national bureaucracy in mainline Protestantism has needed to downsize, and in some cases there have been drastic cuts of 20 to 40 percent. Local churches are making more decisions for themselves and relying less on denominational leadership. This is the beginning of a shift in power away from central denominations and toward local churches. The shift is also seen in the growing number of Protestant churches today that are nondenominational; they exist happily without any denominational connection, and some of them are thriving.

Why is this happening? One factor seems to be a skepticism about large national institutions of all kinds, a skepticism especially strong among young adults today. Social surveys prove that Americans have decreased their confidence in institutions since the 1950s--for example, in government, in big business, and in the mass media. Confidence in organized religion is down also ( Niemi, Mueller, and Smith 1989; Morin and Balz 1996). Centralized institutions will need to adapt.

The most reasonable prediction is that denominations will survive, but in a restructured form. Future denominations will be less centralized, less expensive, and more in the form of networks than of bureaucratic pyramids. Congregations will increasingly work together in voluntary networks of churches and clergy. The future vitality of mainline Protestantism will depend more than ever on the creativity and persuasiveness of local congregations. It will depend on the ability of local churches to relate to the deepest feelings of the new generation.


REFERENCES

Ammerman Nancy T. 1995. "Golden Rule Christianity: Lived Religion in the American Mainstream." Unpublished paper. Atlanta, GA: Candler School of Theology.

Berger Peter L. 1967. The Sacred Canopy. New York: Doubleday.

Coalter Milton J., John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks. 1996. Vital Signs: The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism. Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans.

Hadaway C. Kirk. 1993. "Church Growth in North America: The Character of a Religious Marketplace." Chapter 17 in C. Kirk Hadaway and David A. Roozen (eds.), Church and Denominational Growth. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Hadaway C. Kirk, and David A. Roozen (eds.). 1993. Church and Denominational Growth. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Hoge Dean R., Benton Johnson, and Donald A. Luidens. 1994. Vanishing Boundaries: The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Hoge Dean R., and David A. Roozen. 1979. "Some Sociological Conclusions about Church Trends." Chapter 14 in Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen (eds.), Understanding Church Growth and Decline., 1950- 1978. New York: Pilgrim Press.

Kelley Dean M. 1972. Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

-----. 1977. Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (Updated Edition). New York: Harper and Row.

Morin Richard, and Dan Balz. 1996. "Americans Losing Trust in Each Other and Institutions." Washington Post, January 28, pp. A1, A6, A7.

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