Reflections on the Reports of Decline in Mainstream Protestantism

Bass, Dorothy C. “Reflections on the Reports of Decline in Mainstream Protestantism.” Chicago Theological Seminary Register 80(3):5-15, Summer 1989.

Convinced that membership decline in mainstream Protestantism affords the churches a setting in which to reflect anew on their vocation as God’s people in the world, Dorothy Bass draws on her own research as well as that of others to look at why decline is occurring and what the churches are doing wrong before identifying some imperatives for her own denomination, the United Church of Christ. Research indicates that decline is due primarily to the fact that baby-boomers raised in mainline Protestant churches are not seeking church affiliation as adults. Though Americans continue to evidence personal spirituality, sociological factors outside the churches’ control—in terms of the culture’s radical individualism and the changing nature of the family—define spirituality in ways that adversely affect church membership. Bass believes that the churches’ failure to address this problem stems from its inability to teach members how to draw upon their Christian heritage in a living way. She recommends three steps the United Church of Christ should take in reversing this problem: (1) relinquish its establishmentarian perspectives; (2) stress both the local congregation and the global church; and (3) take seriously the importance of visionary and effective leadership.