A recent Ellison Research study found that 22% of respondent prefer one brand of toothpaste and use it only. Similarly, 19% prefer one brand of toilet paper, and use over all other brands. 16% of respondents said they prefer one religious denomination over all others, and “use” it exclusively. Conclusion…surveyed people have a stronger preference for what they use to clean their mouths and their bottoms, than for the institutions that serve to teach about the salvation of their souls.
But this sounds about right to me. I have contended for some time, including in couple of articles at this site, that the last 25 or so years have brought with them the diminishing of religious denominations and the flourishing of faithful individual congregations. Some of these congregations, might “network” with other like-minded groups of believers, but those networks sometimes include congregations that bear a different “brand” on the sign outside their places of worship. Religious liberalism has brought with it the presumably unintended consequence of the destruction of the overarching institutions which their leaders represent and the elevation of the local body of believers, even among so-called connectional denominations. I am convinced from personal experience and observation that the parent churches among the Presbyterians (USA), the United Methodists, the Episcopal Church (USA) among others, are nearly rotten to the core.
Yet, there remain faithful individual congregations among them that still are unwavering in their belief in such essential “first order” theological matters as the authority and accuracy of scripture (particularly as it relates to the subject of qualifications for the office of elder in a church, and the clear teaching of the Bible on such matters as sexual immorality, both homosexual and heterosexual), the sufficiency and exclusivity of Christ’s atonement for sin, the Trinity, and the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.
It is the apparent uncertainty, or dismissal of these core doctrines that have resulted in the irrelevancy of denominations, while adherence to them has caused individual collections of faithful believers at the local congregational level to thrive.
It seems to beg the question…”Do the facts not speak for themselves and are the metrics of membership loss and indeed even entire congregational loss not obvious to everyone, particularly the people who sit in the seats of authority among these old and dying institutions of faith?” It seems so plainly obvious, that it speaks not so much to ignorance, but perhaps more to a sordid sort of defiance.
Sperately, but not unrelated, check out this link and be sure to look at both the “Breakdown of Religious Belief” and the “Topography of Faith”. The map is almost too cool. Roll your mouse over the map of the US and look at the stats to the right.