Since churches use different time tables and computation methods, denominational records are not always the most reliable source on what is going on in the Church. But as reports filter in on membership, programs, and finances, evidence mounts that theologically liberal and politically activist denominations are in a period of crisis—not yet major, but growing.
The important fundamentalist and evangelical groups, in contrast, show marked upturns in membership, in finances, and particularly in missionary outreach. Mormons continue rapid growth. So do Roman Catholics (now 47.5 million strong—up 31.7 per cent in ten years), but they still are vexed with depleting educational funds.
The total religious membership gain for the year was less than half a per cent, reaching 126,445,110, or 63.2 per cent of the 1968 population. The 1967 ratio was 64.4 per cent of the population, which means churches aren’t keeping up with the nation’s growth.
Among the major denominations, Episcopalians, United Presbyterians, and Methodists appear to have much of the trouble. For the second year in a row, the Episcopal Church has had to make up deficits caused by undergiving. Less has been pledged this year.
Last month, Bishop Stephen Bayne told the Episcopal Executive Council, “This does not mean the end of the world,” but he qualified the veiled optimism: “We are facing unprecedented problems—unprecedented, at any rate, in our time. To have ten of our eighty-seven continental dioceses unable to meet their commitments in a given year is unprecedented. For our eighty-seven dioceses to pledge less for 1969 than they paid in 1968 is unprecedented.”
As a number of denominational leaders are saying lately, there is no easy diagnosis. “White backlash, resentment ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more