Why the upstarts are the winners
and mainstream churches are the losers
By John H. Adams and Peggy Hedden, The Layman, it is losing individual congregations by the dozens. Most of them are going to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. By the Finke-Stark definition, the PCA and the EPC could be considered “upstarts.”
Contrary to Kirkpatrick’s opinion, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its predecessors have been losing men, women and children to other Christian bodies – independent or denominational – for centuries. Still, Finke told The Layman, there can be seen whiffs of life in some quarters of the PCUSA.
“Like the Methodists, the Presbyterians have felt the full force of the limited market appeal of low tension. Between 1960 and 1990, while the Methodist market share fell by 39 percent, the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined by 34 percent. But, unlike the Methodists for whom this has been mainly a twentieth century affliction, the Presbyterian market share has been slipping for nearly 200 years (Finke and Stark, 1992). Is it too late? Or is a more ‘religious’ young clergy coming to the rescue here as well?”
The table on page 20 “demonstrates that Presbyterian (USA) churches belonging to the Willow Creek Association also exhibit very favorable trends in member commitment. Moreover, in a denomination with a long history of declining membership, the pastors affiliated with WCA have almost reversed the tide,” Finke said.
Dr. Martin Marty criticized Finke and Starke’s first edition of the book in Christian Century (Jan. 27, 1993), when he was the senior editor. Marty, one of the stalwarts of the mainline movement, claimed that “Finke and Stark’s world contains no God or religion or spirituality, no issue of truth or beauty or goodness, no faith or hope or love, no justice or mercy; only winning or losing in the churching game matters.”
But Finke and Stark, in their preface to the 2005 second edition of The Churching of America, said Martin “knew perfectly well that our major emphasis was on faith in God. On the very first page of the book we wrote, ‘to the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper. The churching of America was accomplished by aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.’”