Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


Church Growth Due to Biology, Not Theology?

In response to recent posts a friend sent me this note:

Demographic research shows that the primary reason for the decline in membership in mainline churches and the growth of conservative churches has little to do with ideology and much to do with biology. Conservative church members have more children.

According to findings published in the American Journal of Sociology:

“A combination of higher birth rates and earlier childbearing among conservative women …explains over three-fourths of the observed change in Protestants’ denominational affiliations for cohorts born between 1900 and 1970. Most of the rest of the observed change is caused by falling rates of switching from conservative to mainline denominations; differential apostasy plays a small but significant role. Remarkably, because it has not increased over the past 50 years or so, switching from mainline to conservative denominations as the focus of the leading explanations explains none of the decline of mainline denominations.” (From Hout, M., Greely, A., & Wilde, M. J. (2001). The demographic imperative in religious change in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 107(2),468-500.)

As I understand it, this article claims that conservative church growth has been mostly due to conservatives having larger families.

A much more secondary factor is that fewer conservatives switch to mainline churches than used to be the case.

A third, but quite minor, factor is that a higher percentage of members of mainline churches disaffiliate from church than happens in conservative churches.

The article also claims that there has been no increase in the percentage of members of mainline churches switching to conservative church these past 50 years, so this cannot be a reason conservative churches seem to be growing faster than mainline churches.

Find an abstract of the article here or, if you have trouble with that link, go here and open volume 107, number 2.


Blogger John said...

My theology is definately conservative -- I scored higher on the "Fundamentalist" rating on the recent theological worldview test that has circulated around the Christian blogosphere.

The first church that I joined after I became a Christian was Southern Baptist. It was deeply evangelical, but not political a la Falwell.

I felt the Lord's calling into my present church, and then his calling into ministry, even though both seemed odd. The church was (and still is) rife with bickering and cliquishness. Many people are non-evangelical and some are anti-evangelical (a story: when we were planning a revival, I wanted to place an ad in the local leftist newspaper, on the page in the back that had advertisements for phone sex and strip clubs. "We don't want those kinds of people in our church" Ugh).

So I am one of the exceptions to the trend that you've described -- a conservative moving mainline.

I was unsure why the Lord was guiding me so, but I followed. Over time, I've come to see His plan more. The SBC is turning Calvinist, and I could never be a Calvinist. And perhaps the UMC has need for evangelicals. Anyway, I am here at the Lord's service, to do as He wishes.

So in addition to biology and theology leading to changes in church growth and decline, perhaps God is behind the scenes, making many of these changes Himself.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Dean Snyder said...


Thanks for sharing some of your journey. Glad you've been led to the UMC.

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