Mainline denominations are not dead. They may be dying. At the very least the way they once were, the way we have known them for the last 100 years, is dead. So why do we keep looking to them for answers to the challenges we now face? Why do we keep expecting that they will somehow roar back and save us?
Clergy waste so much time lamenting the state of their denominations. It’s exhausting and fruitless. And I'm beginning to think that it says more about clergy than about the denomination.
Could the problem be that we are looking for something that they simply can no longer provide? Could it be that find it easier to lament and blame the denomination than to create our own solutions?
I was recently introduced to the French sociologist and theologian named Michel de Certeau and an essay he wrote in 1973 entitled “How is Christianity Thinkable Today?” (You can find it in The Postmodern God.)
In this essay Certeau reflects on the decline of the church, and he asks how can we imagine a vital, living, church today, and from whence that vitality and life arises.
I love his answer...
Every mainline Protestant denomination is struggling with declining membership, decreasing financial support, and the question of how best to be the Body of Christ in this time.
In response, my denomination, the ELCA, created the LIFT (Living into the Future Together) Task Force, which was charged with making recommendations on how to change our denominational structures or "ecology" in order to help best fulfill our mission today. The task force issued its final report to the ELCA on April 11th.
My short take is that the task force shows very good instincts, particularly in its overarching recommendation regarding the shift of focus and resources to local congregations. However, I think the report also falls victim to three persistent problems we face in our church ecology.