Ted Campbell, a United Methodist clergy person and professor at Southern Methodist University, uses his position in the church as a historian to examine the claim that the church is dying. He addresses the myth, as he calls it, focusing on the mainline churches – or old-line churches – that seem to be suffering from a membership hemorrhaging. All while it appears that the more contrastive, evangelical churches are growing.
This has been a commonly stated problem for the mainline church, which Campbell identifies as United Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), Episcopal in the USA, United Church of Christ, among others, since Dean Kelley’s Why Conservative Churches are Growing was published in 1972.
Campbell highlights for the reader that when we look at the attendance trends, it is not all that bad. The sky is not falling. The church is not dying. Using this data, he brings to light that while membership overall has declined, regular attendance is up. The practice in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s of reporting inactive members in the year-end membership counts is one factor that contributed to this.
Campbell also highlights some modern trends that affect the way we count. For example, regular attendance used to mean every Sunday. But today’s trend is more like once or twice a month. He calls into question the criticism that the mainline church has become too liberal. He argues that while there are progressive leanings on issues such as inclusion of homosexuals and gay marriage, the church has not ceased from being “consistent in affirming historic Christian teachings” (emphasis added).
This is a short little book that takes very little time to read. The tone is comical at times, revealing Campbell’s confidence in these matters. Perhaps more so, his confidence in what God is doing through the church, despite the fear of death. Over and over again he reminds us that the Church needs to rely on the movement of the Holy Spirit in guiding it into the 21st century. If you have concerns or fears about an impending schism in the church, this book will not eliminate those for you. However, it will give a different perspective.
Ted Campbell’s The Sky is Falling, the Church is Dying, and Other False Alarms is available from Abingdon Press. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy.