There’s Still Hope for the Mainline

Anyone who’s read this blog knows I tend to be critical of mainline Christianity.  It’s not that I want to leave what has been my theological home for two decades; it’s that I get frustrated at some of it’s shortcomings.

Despite all of that, mainline/progressive/liberal Christianity is my home.  As much as I respect my evangelical beginnings, I don’t belong there anymore.  My current home might be a fixer-upper, but it’s still home.

So, I get a bit sad when I hear stories about how Mainline Protestantism is shrinking.  People leave the church.  Congregations close.  Denominational offices keep cutting staff. Will this form of Christianity even be around in 20 years or so?

The thing is, I do see some signs of a church that is trying to keep the lights on.  My day job with the Presbyterians is located in the Minnesota Church Center, which is home to several denominations.  During the building-wide weekly Lenten service, someone from the Episcopal Diocese in Minnesota shared a unique way of studying Scripture that has been used among Native American Anglicans.  This wasn’t some of flimsy stuff I sometimes find in liberal churches.  This had substance.

Even in the church that I serve, I’ve seen signs of life and a church willing to live and be open to the Spirit.  There is still good things going on in mainline churches.

An article in the Orange County Register talks about the signs of hope taking place in Mainline congregations in the suburban California county.  The author of the article does a good job as he shares what is going on several congregations and helps us understand that in light of the recent decline among evangelical churches, that the reasons for decline among the mainline is not simply because they decided to have a more liberal theology.  The increasing secularization of American society has caused churches to adapt.  Here’s what one Disciples of Christ congregation did:

At Harbor Christian Church in Newport Beach, a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, members solved the Sunday morning problem by shifting activities to Sunday evening or other days of the week.

Pastor Wes Knight said attendance at adult spiritual formation classes shot up when they were shifted to Sunday night.

Now, 30 people come weekly for a potluck supper and member-taught classes on topics ranging from forgiveness to the spirituality of pottery.

Knight said Harbor Christian, surrounded by several of Orange County’s largest churches, embraces its identity “as an alternative to the megachurch.”

There are no theological requirements for membership, and the roughly 70 worshippers who attend each Sunday are intimately involved in one another’s lives.

“They’re just like my own family to me,” said Mike Nelson of Mission Viejo who recalled being enthusiastically welcomed at the church when he arrived five years ago, even though he was struggling with a methamphetamine addiction.

“I tried the megachurches and didn’t find any sense of community,” Nelson said. Harbor Christian members “didn’t judge me at all.”

Read the whole thing.  It gives me hope that while the mainline churches might be smaller in the future, but by God we will be around in the future, preaching, teaching and welcoming the stranger.

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