Mainline on Track?

How many times have you seen news articles proclaiming that the mainline is dead? The mainline in this case is not Amtrak, but the historically predominant American Protestant churches—Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and, yes, the United Church of Christ.

There has been a significant decline in the numbers of people reported to be attending these denominations, but this is not the whole story. There are within these denominations many churches that are not only surviving, but are thriving. This is another case in which you can’t generalize from a group number (overall members) to the small unit (local church). There are, in fact, many church doing important ministry and making huge impacts on their communities.

A book that documents vital churches is “Christianity for the Rest of Us” by Diana Butler Bass. Dr. Bass is a sociologist who worked with a research team to study strong and growing churches in traditional protestant denominations. The researchers set out to identify the common characteristics of these churches. The results are in this very readable and fascinating book.

I invite you to join me in beginning the New Year with a study of this book. I will introduce the book in my sermon this Sunday and with a sermon talkback session following worship. Then at the end of the month, Sunday, January 27, I will host an evening discussion group at the church. I especially urge all board and committee members to read this book to gain new ideas for this year. The book is in paperback and is selling for less than $12.

No, the mainline is not dead. There are many churches, like ours, doing substantial and needy ministry all across our nation.

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