Mainline Protestant churches’ gradual decline shown

A survey released this week by The Barna Group indicates stormy seas ahead for mainline Protestant churches.

The survey shows that five key mainline Protestant churches were dominant forces in the 1950s — American Baptist Churches, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.

The number of churches among those denominations has dwindled from 80,000 to 72,000 in about the last 60 years. More significantly, the mainline groups now only make up about 20 percent of Protestant churches with the rise of evangelical, Pentecostal and non-denominational congregation.

The survey further shows that attendance has been flat in these congregations for decades despite tremendous population growth. Barna indicates that this is because there have been a handful of new attendees to keep numbers level as other members level or older members die.

Also worrisome for these denominations are statistics which show the amount of volunteerism and loyalty to a single church in a traditional setting is on a steep downward slope statistically. The average age of senior pastors in these churches has shot up from 48 to 55 in the last 10 years, indicating that many pastors are delaying retirement and are not being substantially replaced by enough younger pastors.

For the full survey details, see


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