Thinking Out Loud

May 14, 2009

Will Evangelicalism Go the Way of Mainline Denominations?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:39 pm

Much discussion has followed the release of two surveys on Church affiliation in the United States.

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) triggered a reaction by Newsweek magazine, which got a response this week from Christianity Today online.   CT contends that what we’re seeing take place is a shifting from mainline to Evangelical preferences, counter to the Newsweek stance that the survey heralds the end of Christianity in America; something many feel the secular media is dying to announce.

I posted a comment to their article and — for reasons I can’t begin to imagine — the comment wasn’t accepted.    My thesis was and is that many of our so-called “new” denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Christian & Missionary Alliance, are actually over 100 years old.  (One C&MA leader used the term ‘geriatric’ about ten years ago.)

The potential “mainlining” of these groups is huge as traditions and modus operandi become entrenched.   But this is not all bad news.   The history of Christianity is a history of new groups and movements continuing to propel the Christian faith through history.    Since each movement is generally a reaction to what preceded it, one would wonder what will be the defining features of the movement which reacts to Evangelicalism.

(There, CT; I said it.   What was so unprintable about that?)

To read the CT article — including a link to the Newsweek piece — and add an unprintable comment of your own,  link here.

The other survey referenced online this week was The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life  survey entitled Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.

I located this story by Michael Bell at the blog Eclectic Christian, which got it via Internet Monk.     You’ve got to read the article, but what caps it off is this graphic depiction of denominational migration.


The article breaks into an extended analysis, but knowing a couple of you aren’t going to link, here’s what you’re seeing in the visuals:

What you are looking at is changes in American adults, from their childhoods to present day. As such it eliminates such factors as birthrate and death rate, and strictly looks at who is changing to what. We should note that immigration is a factor in this chart as present day Americans may have been born elsewhere, and so their childhood would have been in a different country.

Again, when you click the link, you can also click on the graphic and see it full screen (1000 x 600).

Transfer growth is a touchy subject, especially for pastors who are losing parishioners to larger or flashier churches.   But again, the history of Christianity is a history of new movements.

I once heard it said that people migrate from church to church for one of two kinds of reasons:  “push factors” or “pull factors.”   While there are people who feel that someone ‘stepped on their toes;’ I believe most of the migration described here would be of the “pull factor” variety.

Do you attend the church you grew up in?   Have you changed churches in the last 12 months?   What precipitated your change?


  1. Hi Paul in Canada,

    Thanks for linking to this. I have been posting both on Internet Monk and Eclectic Christian, although Eclectic Christian is my primary site.

    I too am from Canada (Hamilton) and have helped plant both Pentecostal and Alliance churches in Canada.

    Stay tuned at InternetMonk for some further analysis of the Flux survey.

    Comment by Eclectic Christian — May 14, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  2. Very interesting. The graph is missing a small chunk of data concerning people raised in Black Protestant churches, strangely enough.

    I guess I would classify as someone who started out in a mainline denomination and then migrated to an evangelical church.

    Comment by Janet — May 15, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

    • The Black Protestant churches are represented by the blue section about two thirds of the way over.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  3. Today, May 15th, Michael Bell posted a follow up analysis at IM, which you can read here:

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  4. I was referring to the gap on the left side of the blue bar and the lack of little blue streamers.

    Comment by Janet — May 15, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    • I took that to mean that there was only migration INTO that group, represented by the incoming stream at the bottom, but no migration OUT OF that group. Which would make sense. I got an e-mail from Michael, so I’ll try to get him to jump in here.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 15, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  5. Janet,

    Very perceptive.

    If you read the original post at or you will see that there was some information that I was not able to find out. What you spotted was one of those aspects. I know that people have also moved away from Black Historical churches, but I don’t know where they have gone.

    Comment by Eclectic Christian — May 15, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  6. No, not perceptive, I just looked closely. This is, by the way, a very cool chart.

    Comment by Janet — May 17, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

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