Diana Butler Bass she writes a daily blog called “The Cottage”. On July 8, she wrote about and about some remarkable findings that came out of a study completed by Public Religion Research Institute called The American Religious Landscape in 2020. The study shows that in American, those who identify themselves as white mainline Protestants (such as Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans) have gone up slightly. Since 2016, this group has gone from its all-time low of just 12.8% of the U.S. population to 16.4% of the population. At the same time, the percentage of people who identify as white evangelicals has been sinking, from a high of 23% to just 14.5%. This is a genuine shift away from white evangelicalism toward mainline Protestantism.
Why is this? Bass reasons that people are leaving white evangelicalism for a host of political, social and theological reasons. She writes, “Some of the best research suggests that people are leaving conservative churches because they don’t believe what those communities teach any longer….They increasingly felt outside of white evangelical communities, their relationship strained, and they made a difficult decision to walk away.”
She also argues that trends are not destiny. Just because this is happening right now doesn’t mean that that it is going to continue. But, she says, for those in mainline churches, “This is a moment to listen well to those who may be coming your way.” We should be ready to share our story “with wisdom, grace, humility and hospitality.”
She writes that mainline churchgoers (like you and me) “regard private religious experience pretty highly, don’t wear their faith on their shelves, know lots of stuff about capital campaigns, bad sound systems, and broken air-conditioners, and really like helping people. Oh. And funerals. Mainline churches do those well. In short, mainliners live inside a particular history, are shaped by poetic words, remember the value of quiet faith and thoughtful reflection, show God through the works of one’s hands more than in words, and understand failure and death.
We can be prepared to explain that to newcomers. “Assume nothing. And be prepared to laugh – and learn a few things about yourself in the process of knowing and telling your story.” There will be some, maybe many, that will be glad to hear it.
These are some instructive and encouraging words.