In prospect for 1962 is a growing revolt against statistics as an index of spiritual health. According to key observers of the religious scene, American church leaders are increasingly skeptical of arithmetical approaches to religious vitality.
A CHRISTIANITY TODAY sampling at the turn of the year confirmed this tendency of an increasing number of influential churchmen to discount numerical data.
This de-emphasis on statistics comes, curiously, during an appreciable leveling-off of the U. S. religious boom of recent years, and at a time when many observers are beginning to inquire about the pragmatic success of ecumenical mergers in addition to spiritual trends in general. Church membership gains are barely keeping pace with the population increase. Fewer students are enrolling in accredited seminary programs leading primarily to the pastoral ministry (see box). Construction of new churches fell off in 1961 for the first time in a number of years. Some Protestant causes are sorely lagging in financial support.
Dr. D. Elton Trueblood, recognized authority on the American church scene, foresees an upsurge, however, in the growth of small fellowships of Christian witness, extending across theological lines.
He distinguishes between a growth “on paper” and “in reality,” citing the fact that membership figures are “deceptive.”
“I hope for a great deepening of the lay ministry,” Trueblood adds, “but I am not sure it will occur.”
Dr. Edgar H. S. Chandler, religious affairs adviser of the United States Information Agency, also tends to give less attention to religious statistics.
Chandler expects a “deep implementation of the ecumenical spirit” to characterize American church life during 1962. He is executive vice president of the Church ...1
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