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Author Topic: Present day history of Church membership....  (Read 2242 times)

PrincessKLS

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Present day history of Church membership....
« on: March 21, 2015, 04:00:47 pm »
Okay so this isn't exactly history now but history in the making. I've been noticing and reading about Christian churches in particularly losing membership and gaining less converts. I've also noticed even within the Christian churches there's a lot more of the idea of spirituality vs. religiosity and less of an emphasis on making sure everything is just so. On the flip side of that, I've noticed some churches and church members getting more desperate for members. I even notice it in my campus ministry (Episcopalian/Presbyterian) that's rather small act desperate. Although in their case, I think part of that is the leaders of that group aren't very good at keeping faithful members due to their attitude. That's kind of a different story. Anyone else notice this or even in non-Christian faiths?
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2015, 05:00:44 pm »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173278
Okay so this isn't exactly history now but history in the making. I've been noticing and reading about Christian churches in particularly losing membership and gaining less converts. I've also noticed even within the Christian churches there's a lot more of the idea of spirituality vs. religiosity and less of an emphasis on making sure everything is just so. On the flip side of that, I've noticed some churches and church members getting more desperate for members. I even notice it in my campus ministry (Episcopalian/Presbyterian) that's rather small act desperate. Although in their case, I think part of that is the leaders of that group aren't very good at keeping faithful members due to their attitude. That's kind of a different story. Anyone else notice this or even in non-Christian faiths?

 
I have heard very similar things. Not only is church attendance dropping, most new converts come from other Christian denominations, rather than from non-Christians. At least this is the case in Australia, America, and Western Europe. I have no idea what the actual statistics on this are, though I have heard that in Australia, only 10% of the population attend Church regularly.

I have no idea for other religions. But it would be interesting to find out.

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2015, 03:36:06 am »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173278
Okay so this isn't exactly history now but history in the making. I've been noticing and reading about Christian churches in particularly losing membership and gaining less converts. I've also noticed even within the Christian churches there's a lot more of the idea of spirituality vs. religiosity and less of an emphasis on making sure everything is just so. On the flip side of that, I've noticed some churches and church members getting more desperate for members. I even notice it in my campus ministry (Episcopalian/Presbyterian) that's rather small act desperate. Although in their case, I think part of that is the leaders of that group aren't very good at keeping faithful members due to their attitude. That's kind of a different story. Anyone else notice this or even in non-Christian faiths?

 
I'm assuming you're talking about the US?

Christian denominations in Canada and the US have had falling attendance for decades, following their post-WWII superboom; instead of being a fall from grace, it's more like a return to a historical norm. (Nothing like a global war and anti-Communist/atheist propaganda to increase church attendance...) I think Canada is down to less than 1/3 of the population attending religious services 1+ times per month.

So church leaders like to talk about a crisis, and to be fair to them there are some real challenges in this world, such as shrinking attendance leading to shrinking labour & money to keep up the physical buildings. They're also steeped in a culture that imagines the colonial period as a Christian golden age (it wasn't) and modernization as the death of religion (it isn't), so without long-term historical perspective this decline looks more dire than it is.

(There's also lots of scare-mongering about "religious nones," but it's over-rated. I can expand on this if anyone is interested.)

Yes, there have been people leave the church for ideological/religious reasons (e.g. status of women, LGBT+ acceptance), but there are demographic factors too: it's common for people to become more religious as they age or have families, which isn't helped by young people pushing childbearing to later in life; we're no longer in the post-WWII baby boom; people have to work on Sundays; and rural churches are losing their population base as people move to cities. So it's not just a situation where people stop believing and need to be wooed back, the churches actually have to adapt to a changing population.

For visible minorities, religion plays a huge role in the community-building of post-1970s immigrants and their families, but frequently doesn't mesh with the existing white Christian communities. F'ex, the white Mennonites and the Chinese Mennonites in my area have separate churches. Diaspora communities frequently use religious events to share their culture (e.g. Sikh langars (communal meals) of Punjabi food), which softens the demographic blows somewhat, but those same cultural differences make it hard for non-immigrant churches to recruit new immigrant members.

Meanwhile in Europe, people still give donations to churches for their social work, or get their kids baptized, but attendance is miniscule. There's lots of diversity there too, particularly around ideas about how far the church should stay from the state.

I can't speak much about other countries, so I'd be happy to hear about those, and I'm not into theology so I can't speak about changing teachings. :) I know Evangelicalism is on the rise in Brazil and the majority of Anglicans/Episcopalians are in the global south, but not much beyond that.

I can pull out some book recommendations, if anyone's interested about particular countries/areas?

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2015, 03:21:31 pm »
Quote from: schwertlilie;173284
I'm assuming you're talking about the US?

Christian denominations in Canada and the US have had falling attendance for decades, following their post-WWII superboom; instead of being a fall from grace, it's more like a return to a historical norm. (Nothing like a global war and anti-Communist/atheist propaganda to increase church attendance...) I think Canada is down to less than 1/3 of the population attending religious services 1+ times per month.

So church leaders like to talk about a crisis, and to be fair to them there are some real challenges in this world, such as shrinking attendance leading to shrinking labour & money to keep up the physical buildings. They're also steeped in a culture that imagines the colonial period as a Christian golden age (it wasn't) and modernization as the death of religion (it isn't), so without long-term historical perspective this decline looks more dire than it is.

(There's also lots of scare-mongering about "religious nones," but it's over-rated. I can expand on this if anyone is interested.)

Yes, there have been people leave the church for ideological/religious reasons (e.g. status of women, LGBT+ acceptance), but there are demographic factors too: it's common for people to become more religious as they age or have families, which isn't helped by young people pushing childbearing to later in life; we're no longer in the post-WWII baby boom; people have to work on Sundays; and rural churches are losing their population base as people move to cities. So it's not just a situation where people stop believing and need to be wooed back, the churches actually have to adapt to a changing population.

For visible minorities, religion plays a huge role in the community-building of post-1970s immigrants and their families, but frequently doesn't mesh with the existing white Christian communities. F'ex, the white Mennonites and the Chinese Mennonites in my area have separate churches. Diaspora communities frequently use religious events to share their culture (e.g. Sikh langars (communal meals) of Punjabi food), which softens the demographic blows somewhat, but those same cultural differences make it hard for non-immigrant churches to recruit new immigrant members.

Meanwhile in Europe, people still give donations to churches for their social work, or get their kids baptized, but attendance is miniscule. There's lots of diversity there too, particularly around ideas about how far the church should stay from the state.

I can't speak much about other countries, so I'd be happy to hear about those, and I'm not into theology so I can't speak about changing teachings. :) I know Evangelicalism is on the rise in Brazil and the majority of Anglicans/Episcopalians are in the global south, but not much beyond that.

I can pull out some book recommendations, if anyone's interested about particular countries/areas?

 

I'm sorry I didn't mean to sound so ethnocentric. I've lived in the US for my whole life, and only a small portion of it. Which ironically happens to be in the bible belt area. I have heard about church attendance in Europe. It's just even in my rural, bible belt area of the US, I've notice attendance drops and desperation in churches to get new members. Sometimes even going the extra mile.
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2015, 04:32:14 pm »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173291
I'm sorry I didn't mean to sound so ethnocentric. I've lived in the US for my whole life, and only a small portion of it. Which ironically happens to be in the bible belt area. I have heard about church attendance in Europe. It's just even in my rural, bible belt area of the US, I've notice attendance drops and desperation in churches to get new members. Sometimes even going the extra mile.


You didn't sound ethnocentric to me - I wanted to check locations because I've only read North American religious histories and can't reference much outside of NA and Europe.

The in-church perspective of a crisis in the pews is a pet peeve of mine. I have a lot of opinions about this, obviously. ;)

You've got me curious: what ways are your local churches trying to win people back into the pews? My hometown is growing suburban enough that we've built churches within the last twenty years, so I haven't seen much beyond general missions.

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2015, 06:04:47 pm »
Quote from: schwertlilie;173284
I'm
I can't speak much about other countries, so I'd be happy to hear about those, and I'm not into theology so I can't speak about changing teachings. :) I know Evangelicalism is on the rise in Brazil and the majority of Anglicans/Episcopalians are in the global south, but not much beyond that.

 
The most recent research into the UK suggests that the long decline in church membership has recently been stemmed, but not completely halted.  Previous projections of decline have been put back by about five years.  Mostly due to Christian immigrants; more specifically Polish immigrants who attend Catholic churches.  There's also been a big increase in Orthodox attendance, from the Romanian community.

There's also been an increase in black majority churches, especially Pentecostal.  They often have their roots in African churches.  The Afro-Caribbean community also has relatively high numbers of church goers, but we're mostly talking 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants there.  Most of that community originally moved over in the 60's or 70's.

The big question (and this is quite hard to predict) is whether the second and third generation of Eastern Europeans will keep their parent's religions or whether they'll shift to the more secular approach of the majority ethnic population.
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2015, 08:19:57 pm »
Quote from: Jabberwocky;173296

The big question (and this is quite hard to predict) is whether the second and third generation of Eastern Europeans will keep their parent's religions or whether they'll shift to the more secular approach of the majority ethnic population.


I think church attendance will continue to decline, *especially* among the later generations. In my opinion, the most important aspect of any group/idea is relevance. What can the church offer people that they cannot find elsewhere?

In my travels in this city, the only thing I've seen a church offering which might have an attraction is ... a place of quiet. It advertises candle-lit services, soft music and portrays itself as a kind of haven from modern day frenetic living and noise. Having written that, I'm not so sure that the heart of the church (which would be the religious aspect) is enough to keep people when they can also find that kind of 'sanctuary' at a high end restaurant.

Most of my acquaintances are Asian and I don't know one that goes to any kind of temple or mosque, especially the young people (except at the behest of their families for 'occasions') Most with whom I've had discussion with about this see the religion and beliefs of their parents and the older community as holding them back, pulling them back in time to a place they know little about and which places heavy restrictions on them ( especially the women ).

They see no relevance to their everyday lives in the faiths of their ancestors and/or the countries which their families came from.

Of the non-Asian people I know, I know of none who attend church and most never did. They also have said , when the topic came up, they don't see the point of it. And that is not selection bias as I'm speaking of acquaintances ( such as work and university acquaintances) as well as friends.

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2015, 12:37:31 am »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173278
Anyone else notice this or even in non-Christian faiths?


If some on-site data collection could be crunched into a sort of automated survey or graph demographic about this, I'd definitely be interested, even though of course because it would come from this site it's going to generally conclude that most people (in the sample number or sample space) converted to some sort of paganism, unless I underestimate the number of people who came here as pagan and converted to a non-pagan religion but stayed active on the forums for the amusing and supportive company and insightful secular conversations :ange: And even then it wouldn't be applicable to a global trend, even though these forums do have people from all over the world.
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Jabberwocky

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2015, 05:44:22 am »
Quote from: carillion;173300
I think church attendance will continue to decline, *especially* among the later generations. In my opinion, the most important aspect of any group/idea is relevance. What can the church offer people that they cannot find elsewhere?

 
The experience of the UK Afro-Caribbean community would seem to bear that out at least in my experience.  Most of the church goers are middle aged and older, the younger generation seem less interested.  Although there's obviously a possibility some might return as they age.

The Muslim community (it's mainly the Pakistani community I have direct knowledge of) are more complex.  They definitely have a much higher retention rate than Christians.  Although I'm mostly basing that on where I grew up, which is about 80-90% made up of that community.  So it may be slightly different because of being an area where most of the BAME population are from a specific ethnic and religious origin and heavily in the majority.

There are two developments I've noticed there.

The first is a definite rise in cultural Muslims, who only bother attending mosque for major holidays, not frequently.

The second is that I think there is a rise (although it's still a tiny minority) in radical Islamist interpretations of Islam, primarily among the young.  That's complex though.  What I think is frequently missed in analysis there is that it's not just a reaction against British society, but also against the Islam of their parents.

I strongly recommend From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy by Kenan Malik for those interested in looking at this further.  Malik's a maverick, but he's a well informed and persuasive one.
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2015, 07:42:44 am »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173278
Okay so this isn't exactly history now but history in the making. I've been noticing and reading about Christian churches in particularly losing membership and gaining less converts.

The first five questions on this "Fast Facts about American Religion FAQ from Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research will provide answers at least as far as the US is concerned.
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2015, 07:21:32 pm »
Quote from: RandallS;173308
The first five questions on this "Fast Facts about American Religion FAQ from Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research will provide answers at least as far as the US is concerned.

 
Was there supposed to be a link in this?

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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2015, 04:23:03 am »
Quote from: PrincessKLS;173278
Okay so this isn't exactly history now but history in the making. I've been noticing and reading about Christian churches in particularly losing membership and gaining less converts. I've also noticed even within the Christian churches there's a lot more of the idea of spirituality vs. religiosity and less of an emphasis on making sure everything is just so. On the flip side of that, I've noticed some churches and church members getting more desperate for members. I even notice it in my campus ministry (Episcopalian/Presbyterian) that's rather small act desperate. Although in their case, I think part of that is the leaders of that group aren't very good at keeping faithful members due to their attitude. That's kind of a different story. Anyone else notice this or even in non-Christian faiths?

This is one of my specialist research areas, so I thought I'd reply with a couple of things. I don't have the spoons to write a detailed post on this, but I can give you some links and things.

There is a whole section of religious studies that focuses on the decline of religion, and whether it's happening or not (in the West, at least - there's no decline in the global South). Essentially, it's really unclear whether it is or not, depending on the country you're talking about. In the 1980s and 90s there was a widely-agreed view in religious studies that religion would decline and secularism would rise, in the next couple of decades. And that isn't exactly what happened.

I can only speak about the UK, that being my specialism - I've read about secularism in the US, but it's not something I know about in detail. Here, there has been a steady decline in the attendance of most churches, with immigration and the growth of diaspora churches stemming some of that trend, along with some growth in evangelical churches from all sections of the population. But for the most part, there's a steady decline in institutional Christianity in the UK.

What researchers did not expect, was what happened next. Instead of the trend moving towards atheism and agnosticism, people started describing themselves in terms of belief without institutional membership. Essentially, most of them are post-Christian. They don't attend church (at least not regularly), but they often (not always) still describe themselves as Christians. They range from people who do stereotypically 'spiritual' things like working with angels or reiki, to those who still read the Bible sometimes or believe in the Christian God but do little about it. This whole range is included in the 'nones', who in this country are indeed on the rise quite quickly - although many of the people included in this trend call themselves 'Christian' in the census, almost by default. This is why the latest census claims that 60% of the population of the UK is Christian, yet only about 10% goes to church regularly. Religion scholar Grace Davie calls this trend 'believing but not belonging'. It is non-institutional belief, as opposed to non-belief. A quarter of the UK population said they had no religion in the most recent UK census, which is evidence of some of these trends. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-for-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/rpt-religion.html

To investigate this trend, you'll want to look up terms like 'post secularism' or 'believing but not belonging'. Try a few of these papers: here, here (with full PDF version publicly available here), and here (on the decline of 'mainline' churches in favour of more conservative ones, in the 2000s, in the US).

Western European societies are very different from US society. There are different cultural heritage factors to take into account. The direction we're going in, is not necessarily the direction the US will end up going in, when it comes to religious trends. But some of the same patterns are beginning to emerge, albeit much less significantly in the US (i.e. people are leaving regular church-going in fewer numbers than in Europe). Grace Davie addresses this directly in this PDF, and while she doesn't come to clear conclusions on whether Europe is 'an exceptional case' in terms of its religious trends, she does hint at some similar things going on in the US. But she also concludes that the rest of the world's religiosity is likely to affect Europe's concepts of religion, in the future, rather than Europe affecting the rest of the world.

tl;dr Although some churches in the US are in decline, Christianity as a whole is not. The situation is very different in the UK and Western Europe, because we have a very different religious context and history. In the UK, Christianity is certainly changing, and currently appears to be declining, although we can't be sure what will happen next. 'Believing but not belonging' is a big trend at the moment.

(Heh, look at that. I wrote a detailed post in the end. I have trouble shutting up on this issue.)
« Last Edit: March 24, 2015, 04:24:27 am by Naomi J »
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #12 on: March 24, 2015, 07:58:40 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;173322
Was there supposed to be a link in this?


Yes. There was. :o

http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html

Apologies, folks.
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Re: Present day history of Church membership....
« Reply #13 on: March 24, 2015, 06:01:20 pm »
Quote from: Naomi J;173333
This is one of my specialist research areas, so I thought I'd reply with a couple of things.

 
Thank you so much--this is incredibly useful!

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