Spirit and truth in the mainline

Oct 23, 2017 by

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Every time we meet, a mainline Protestant pastor bemoans the decline of churches like his. Fewer members, lower attendance, congregations closing.

Yes, it is all true. Yes, but.

Though ordained in the Mennonite Church, for 25 years I have worked and worshiped with mainline Protestants. I’ve visited dozens upon dozens of mainline churches, the last 17 years with the United Church of Christ. Wherever I traveled, we faithfully worshiped in Spirit and in truth.

And still there was decline. But it’s not just a mainline phenomenon. Across the U.S. landscape of rural and small towns, churches of all kinds have been declining, closing or merging. This has been happening for decades. The cause has little to do with their theology, worship or engagement in the community. People have been dying or moving away. It’s happening to Mennonites in Kansas, UCC churches in Vermont and, increasingly, Baptists in Texas.

Diana Butler Bass, a scholar who specializes in American religion and culture, says the Southern Baptist Convention’s loss of a million members over the past decade exposes the false narrative that only liberal denominations decline.

“Cultural circumstances surrounding religious life and religious choice are far more important than the specific theology of any one denomination,” Bass writes. “The issue is not whether you’re a liberal or a conservative denomination. . . . The issue is: Are you a congregation that provides a way of meaningful life for people to be able to navigate chaotic times and to be able to connect with God, to experience a new sense of the Spirit, to be able to love and be compassionate? That’s what makes religious communities vibrant.”

I believe most pastors are not into popularity contests nor the civil religion of a bygone era. Being a faithful church drives them, rather than seeking a full meetinghouse.

It appears Mennonite Church USA is on the way of faithfulness to Jesus and the Gospels. Mennonites might want to explore this life of faithfulness more fully with their neighbors in mainline churches.

Jesse Glick
Middletown, Conn.


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