Last week I wrote a brief post linking to an article about how my denomination, the ELCA, is declining. I included the raw numbers from the ELCA website. On my Facebook page my friend Gregg Burch posted his thoughts on the subject, in which he stated that the ELCA, and mainline denominations in general, are circling the drain. Since I didn’t share my thoughts on the decline in my previous post, I thought I would do so here.
First, I want to say that I think it is foolish to question whether this decline is real or not. All the numbers are down. All of them. It doesn’t matter what you measure, everything is less than it used to be. The ELCA, along with other mainline denominations, is in decline. You can feel free to deny this reality, but it’s still reality.
The ELCA will probably never end, though. What I expect will happen is a slow decline and transformation. The ELCA will die a little each year over time, and occasionally in bursts as it did in a major offering decline that took place last year. The ELCA shrank then, and it will shrink again in the future. As it does, God will continue to grow the new way of being church that is outlined in Gregg’s post that I mentioned earlier. The new way is already taking root, and will grow as the old way declines, and at some point there may very well be a schism over it. I hope not, but based on history it’s plausible. If there is a schism, one group will get the name, and the other group will leave and form a new church body. If there is no schism, then the ELCA will transform as it shrinks, and then as we get better and better at God’s new way the ELCA will grow again.
Either way, I see both old and new leadership in the ELCA today, and I think that’s a good thing. There are places where the old way of being church is still going strong. I see no reason to tear those ministries down. I also see people working hard to discern and implement God’s new way. I think that is exciting, and worthy of support. What I don’t want to see, though, is us putting time, effort and energy into keeping the old way going. It’s dying, and it needs to die so God can do this new thing. Change is hard, but it’s biblical. In fact, it’s biblical how hard it is. But it’s coming, because God is doing something new, and whether we like it or not, that is the future of God’s kingdom here on earth.
In my next post I will share what God’s new way is, my experience with it, and what I think the future looks like.