A farmer entered the church and saw that he and the minister were the only ones present for Sunday service. The minister asked the farmer if he wanted him to go ahead and preach. The farmer replied, “Well, I’m not too smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I’d still feed him.” So the minister began his sermon. An hour-and-a-half later, the minister finally finished. He then came down to inquire of the farmer as to how he liked the sermon. The farmer responded, “As I said, I’m not too smart, but if I went to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I sure wouldn’t feed him all of the hay.”
Christians recently celebrated Easter, a Sunday where many churches are robust and full. But if current trends continue, mainline liberal (not conservative) Protestantism – Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, etc. – has only about twenty-three Easters left. Now, news of a mainline Protestant decline is nothing new, yet the trend lines are undeniable – showing a trajectory toward zero in 23 years time for these groups. Today, only 1 out of 33 who identify themselves as mainline Protestants attend their church, all resulting in the average mainline Protestant person in the pew being 65 years of age.
Take the United Church of Canada as an example. They are now closing churches across the land at the rate of one congregation/building per week. (Even in our area, the local Bluevale United Church has now joined together with the Wingham United Church for Sunday worship.) And the new moderator of the UCC (United Church of Canada) the Rev. Jordan Cantwell, the second-in-a-row gay person elected to such a position, immediately began talks with the head of the Canadian Anglican Church regarding an amalgamation of the two denominations into one (all this following a recent United Church conference entitled, The United Church, Should We Just Throw In The Towel?
And what is the cause for all this? Most church historians put it down to one word, liberalism. There was a day back in the1960s when mainline Protestant denominations made, which so far, is proving to be a fatal decision – that is, if we are going to attract the world then we as a church must become like the world. And so, since the world doesn’t believe that every word in the Bible is true, we as a church won’t either. And since the world doesn’t believe in the virgin born, sinless life, vicarious death, bodily resurrection, second coming of Jesus, we as a church won’t either. And since the world doesn’t believe Israel is the apple of God’s eye, we as a church won’t either. And since the world doesn’t believe there is only one way to heaven, we as a church won’t either. And since the world doesn’t believe in marriage only between a man and a woman, we won’t either. And since the world doesn’t believe God made the earth and did so in six days, we as a church won’t either. The result of all of the above? People soon discovered – why go to church on Sunday when you are not going to hear anything different about God and the Bible than you already hear in the world all week long.
The bottom line? If mainline Protestantism is to have a future, it needs to get back to the past – not 1960 but 2,000 years ago. Otherwise, 2040 will soon be here.