Research over the past few years shows a trend of growth in conservative churches alongside a simultaneous demise in liberal ones. This trend flies directly in the face of John Shelby Spong’s book, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die”, which was published nearly 20 years ago and suggested that churches abandon a literal interpretation of the Bible in order to prevent decay, exchanging it for a more culturally sensitive message. Spong is a U.S. bishop in the Episcopalian church, one of the fastest diminishing congregations today. The Washington Post reports that “Spong’s general thesis is popular with many mainline Protestants, including those in the United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian (U.S.A.) and Episcopal churches. Spong’s work has won favor with academics, too.” Despite this popular line of thought, revising Christianity to fit in with the culture hasn’t worked.
David Millard Haskell writes for the Washington Post, describing his research on the subject:
Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline.
The demise of liberal churches seems to correlate to their lax position on many fundamental statutes of the Christian faith. Haskell further discussed his study with The Christian Post, explaining that:
The paper offered several statistics, and showed that only half of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” compared to 100 percent of clergy from growing churches.
What is more, 71 percent of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily, compared to 19 percent from declining churches; while 100 percent of clergy from growing churches agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers,” though only 44 of declining-churches clergy said the same.
In contrast, Dave Shifflett’s book, “Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity”, discusses the reason why conservative, Bible-believing churches continue to draw in new members. In an article on ChristianHeadlines.com he remarks:
“Americans are vacating progressive pews and flocking to churches that offer more traditional versions of Christianity,” Shiflett asserts. This author is not subtle, and he gets right to the point: “Most people go to church to get something they cannot get elsewhere. This consuming public–people who already believe, or who are attempting to believe, who want their children to believe–go to church to learn about the mysterious Truth on which the Christian religion is built. They want the Good News, not the minister’s political views or intellectual coaching. The latter creates sprawling vacancies in the pews. Indeed, those empty pews can be considered the earthly reward for abandoning heaven, traditionally understood.”
It seems that people really are drawn to the attributes of conservative Christianity. Church can not be a watered down self help meeting made to fit the culture. In order to continue to grow, clergy must continue to teach the Bible. Messages of God’s love, sacrifice, repentance, faith, and transformation must not be abandoned, even if they fly in the face of what is popular. Morality is not negotiable, and Christianity is not fluid. It’s clear now more than ever that the conservative, Biblical-rooted church is the one that people not only need but want to attend.