The Decline and Renewal of the American Church: Part 1 – The Decline of the Mainline

Sep 15, 2021 by

by Timothy Keller, Life in the Gospel:

This is the first in a four-part series on how the American church came to be in decline and what a way forward could look like. Upcoming articles include “The Decline of Faith” (Winter 2022), “The Path to Renewal” (Spring 2022), and “The Power for Renewal” (Summer 2022).

There is no more urgent question for American Christians than this:

What is wrong with the American Christian church and how can its witness and ministry be renewed?

Virtually everyone agrees that something is radically wrong with the church. Inside, there is more polarization and conflict than ever, with all factions agreeing (for different reasons) that the church is in deep trouble. Outside the church, journalists, sociologists, and all other observers either bemoan or celebrate the church’s decline numerically, institutionally, and in influence.

Some do not see any way forward for the church at all. At the one end of the spectrum are those very conservative professing Christians who have denounced most of Christianity as apostate for many years. They are sure that there is no way back for the irremediably corrupt institutional church. At the other end are the most secular, who have high hopes that religion will die out across the world over the next generations. They simply want to “empty the pews.”

Neither outcome is likely—though, as in other cases, social media magnifies and gives the impression that such opinions are more representative and powerful than they are. The global Christian church is growing rapidly (as is Islam) and most demographers and social scientists do not see either religion in general or Christianity in particular fading away to a non-consequential force, even in the West. If that is the case, what should be done? How should the Christian church understand what is wrong and what a path to renewal could look like?

The best method for understanding the way forward is to begin by recounting the story of the American church’s decline. In this series, I will take two articles to do that, and then another set of articles to map out a possible path forward.

Read here

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