I’ve uploaded a little file which mined out some data from a site called ARDA simply to stake out some signposts for the major bru-ha-ha about the reported death of Evangelicalism.

It’s a ZIP file, but inside the file is an old-school .xls file with two tabs — one listing the net change in congragations and adherents between 1980 and 2000, and the other traking the net changes between 1990 and 2000. As you look at the files, remember that it is net change and not “total number”. The next study is due in 2010, and the analysis of that data, I am sure will be of great interest.

Anyway, the reason I put this data up here is to consider a few things. The first is that, in spite of the categorical collapse of mainline Protestant Denominations over the last 20-30 years, Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism has apparently been booming. The Catholics have been suffering from a lack of on-boarding clerics (thus the decline in congregations), but almost 10 million people joined Evangelical Protestant churches in that 20-year span — and in a final population of about 40 million people, that’s pretty substantial growth.

The second thing to consider is “so what?” You know: everyone will agree that jillions of people (which is a valid sociological measurement) have been pandered to and that many people consider themselves part of a local church becaue they show up once in a while or they give money there. Or maybe they like the politics of the preacher.

I have some benchmarking question I want to ask here which we will have to wait and see when ARDA rolls out its sociological machine next year to see where we’re at:

[1] Would flat-line growth against this curve tell us anything about the local churches this survey aggregates?

[2] What happens to average congregation size, I wonder?

[3] Is the denominational detail important or not important?

[4] What about the dreaded category “Unclaimed”? Will ARDA do more to define the “unclaimed”?

[5] What can we make of the fact that in the 20-yr period ARDA has tracked so far that the 5 fastest-growing denominational groups are The Salvation Army, The Old Missionary Baptist Association, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the EV-Free Church, and the Pentecostal-Holiness church? Where will the trend line there take us?

As a non-fan of the category “Evangelical”, the results of next year’s ARDA are going to be interesting — but I have a feeling it’s not going to take anyone off their pre-determined path regarding how they view “evangelicalism”. Even if the facts prove some of us wrong.

Articles by Frank Turk

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