Departmental Honors Project Title
Date of Award
College of Liberal Arts
In recent years, a phenomenon has begun surrounding the fear of the death of the church in America. In 2008, the Pew Forum on Public Life conducted comprehensive survey of religiosity in America. This survey found that the number of those who identify as Protestant in America now stands at 51% of the population. According to the survey this number is poised to continue declining, especially given that the survey found that one fifth of US citizens, and one third of those under 30, are now unaffiliated with religion. Out of these statistics, in combination with other research across the country, the idea of the “death” of the church in America has come about. This terminology led to a proverbial hand wringing of the religious; especially among protestant clergy. This paper addresses the idea that the church is dying, specifically the American Mainline Protestant Church. This paper argues that the church is not, in fact, dying. Rather, in understanding the biblical definition of church through thinkers like Daniel Migliore and Nadia Bolz-Weber, we can see that the actual definition of church is still being upheld in America today. The death that is being felt in churches across America is analyzed with the help of field research in churches in the Twin Cities and across the country, and thinkers such as Kenda Creasy Dean and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Through these things it is found that what is being felt in churches is the death of Christendom in America. In order to move past Christendom, churches must respond to the context of the communities in which they reside. Churches that are able to this are still thriving today. Extreme examples of Christians responding to their context are further analyzed in this paper; including the Niebuhr brothers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King Jr. It is concluded that churches that are able to emulate the acts of these men in their own contexts are following the biblical definition of church and are thriving as American Mainline Protestant Churches in today’s society.
Putland, Jessica G., "The American Mainline Protestant Church: Being the Body of Christ in Context Without Christendom" (2015). Departmental Honors Projects. Paper 31.