Sunday, May 31, 2015

It's called "Buyer's Remorse."

The PEW studies should be taken with a grain of salt.  I realize that.  But, even if facts do require interpretation and are never neutral, they are still facts at the end of the day and can't be dismissed, either.

I realize the situation is equally grim for Protestants, too, but even then it means something like:

  • Mainline churches are dying and will either merge or simply disappear. They are too old to spend all that money. No one except the executive offices in the PCUSA disputes that.
  • While the PCA and SBC are dwindling, other conservative confessional denominations are holding steady (if not actually growing).
  • I don't know how much stock to put into claims that rural churches are shrinking.  It's hard to have a growing church in a small population without a critical mass.  
  • I think Megachurches have plateaued.  Even if they were biblical they would have to plateau at some point.  No entity can maintain such growth without an ever-increasing growth in a community.
  • With that said, however, low-church traditions will continue to thrive for the simple reason that they allow charismatic (small "c") communicators and organizers a venue to use their gifts.  Granted, there is room for abuse but that's the cost of doing business in a fallen world.  It's in other denominations, too, but their restrictive structures slow down the process. 
  • People say there is no organization in evangelicalism. That's not entirely true.  There might not be episcopalian denominational organization outwardly, but if you go into a sizable Evangelical church, they are highly organized and remarkably well-structured (far more than traditional Presbyterian or episcopalian traditions).  It's not rocket science:  incompetence simply doesn't grow churches.
Of course, none of that means a tradition is right or wrong.  It's simply giving a context.  Further, PEW notes that the percentage of Evangelicals has shrunk, but the overall numbers increased:

And evangelical Protestants, while declining slightly as a percentage of the U.S. public, probably have grown in absolute numbers as the overall U.S. population has continued to expand.

Orthodox Bridge has been running a narrative that there is an inexorable slide of Protestants into the Orthodox Church and that the 21st century is "The Orthodox Century."  Please keep in mind we are not arguing for the truthity or falsity of any particular tradition.  I am simply reporting the facts on the ground.

And while Orthodox Bridge has banned my commenting there, dear reader, if you are interested in Orthodoxy I owe you a favor.  When you read Convertskii blogs it's easy to pretend you are at Nicea, that you are seeing the ancient church as the ancient church (supposedly) was.  No doubt you are pretending to be with Aleksandr Nevsky slaughtering the Teutons at the Battle on the Ice. And if you convert to EO and find yourself living those realities, well-done I say.  You are luckier than most.

I think many, however, reading these narratives and then acting on them, suffer from buyer's remorse. It just isn't telling the story long-term.  If you jump ship, on.  Is this the Orthodox Century?  I refer to the earlier-linked article.

  • Orthodox Christians have one of the lowest rates of retention across Christian and non-Christian denominations.  Only 53% of adults who were raised in the Orthodox Church still identify themselves as Orthodox Christians.  Compare that to Hindus (80%), Jewish (75%), Mormon (64%) and Catholic (59%).

  • Given the relative wealth and household income of Orthodox Christians, why do so many parishes struggle to meet their financial needs?  Communities in even the most affluent parts of the country are struggling to repair roofs, pay bills and keep the parishes fully staffed.
  • Credible sources report that just in the past five years, stewardship membership nationwide has fallen from 250,000 families in 2009 to 159,000 families in 2014. That is a decline of 38% in just five years. Long term survival of any modern institution bearing such drastic decreases in the ranks of its adherents, stewards and members becomes questionable.
  • if we continue to espouse the leadership’s mantra that the Greek Orthodox Church is on track to succeed in the changing religious landscape of today’s America, the reality could indeed be more than we can bear.

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