(By Ed Stetzer, The Washington Post). Christians recently celebrated Easter, a Sunday where many churches are robust and full. But, if current trends continue, mainline Protestantism has about 23 Easters left.
The news of mainline Protestantism’s decline is hardly new. Yet the trend lines are showing a trajectory toward zero in both those who attend a mainline church regularly and those who identify with a mainline denomination 23 years from now.
While the sky isn’t falling, the floor is dropping out.
The trajectory, which has been a discussion among researchers for years, is partly related to demographics. Mainline Protestants, which has been the tradition of several U.S. presidents, aren’t “multiplying” with children as rapidly as evangelicals or others of differing faiths. And geography matters. Places where Protestants live are now in socio-economic decline, and parts of the country like the Sun Belt are become more evangelical with every passing winter.
And as Episcopal researcher Kirk Hadaway explained in 1998, “nontraditional groups, including once-marginal Protestant churches, smaller sects and non-Western religions, have increased. At the same time, a growing number of people have shed their particular religious affiliations, saying they are just ‘religious, spiritual’ or have no religion at all.”
But I think something deeper is going on.
The data of decline
Recently released data from the General Social Survey, sorted by what is called the RelTrad, shows that mainline Protestants are in the midst of a decades-long decline, and it has intensified in its most recent survey.