Magazine article The Christian Century

Worship and Renewal. (Surveying Congregational Life)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Worship and Renewal. (Surveying Congregational Life)

Article excerpt

ANALYSTS OF industrial nations often are perplexed by the continuing high level of religious activity in the United States. According to historians, this persistent vitality of congregational life is the result of overlapping waves of renewal rather than a steady growth from pioneer strengths. A recent survey, known as Faith Communities Today (FACT), reveals that three causes of this renewal are still evident across America--and that one of these provides good news for the oldline Protestant churches.

Perhaps the most characteristically American source of this renewing energy is immigration. All oldline Protestant denominations (as well as most streams of U.S. Catholicism and Judaism) are immigrant in origin. New waves of immigration bring new ethnic religious groups to our shores.

A second agent of renewal has been the development of characteristically American religious movements--most with Protestant roots. Several have developed into sizable denominations, the largest and best known being what we now call the United Methodist Church. These two sources of renewal are demonstrated dramatically in the FACT research.

The accompanying graph shows the percentage of congregations organized by denominational families during various periods of time. The purple line shows the continual surge of evangelical Protestantism. Hidden within the purple aggregate are data revealing that between 1980 and 2000 the major source of evangelical Protestant growth was the Assemblies of God, a denomination that originated in the U.S. in the early years of the 20th century. Also hidden in the purple aggregate is the fact that during the 1990s the fastest growing segment of the Assemblies was its Latino congregations.

Even more dramatic is the percentage growth from 1990 to 2000 of the indigenous Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the largely immigrant Islamic community, shown in the green line.

When oldline Protestant churches began experiencing membership losses in the mid-1960s, the primary cause of the decline was their failure to adapt to social and demographic changes. There was, however, no clear agreement on a path or paths to renewal.

Within the past decade it became evident that more contemporary and expressive styles of worship were beginning to creep from west to east and from neo-Pentecostal into oldline Protestant congregations. …

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