There was news last month that contrary to most people’s expectation, the more educated an American is, the more likely that person is to attend church regularly. So why are the mainstream churches in the U.S. losing membership across the board? Apparently it’s because the working class Americans are less and less likely to be found in congregations.
I find it amusing that Episcopalians are bothered by this. This is the church, mind you, that built its post-World War II growth on making it the place for those at or moving to the top to be on Sunday morning. Now I know that they in no small measure wrecked this in the 1970’s when their underpaid clergy (underpaid relative to their congregations’ per capita income) made social justice (their own?) a big issue, making those who just arrived (in every sense of the word, including the Palm Beach one) wonder why they joined up. But it was their idea that, if they made social justice their centrepiece, those who were the intended recipients of all of this justice would come to the church that brought it.
It hasn’t happened that way; in fact, we’re now seeing the opposite. The receding tide of Christianity in the U.S. is largely a “Main Line” phenomenon; for all of the publicity of “ex-fundies” (who usually go on to be fundies about something else) it’s the Main Line churches who have suffered the largest losses. And many of those losses are with working class people.
Having spent over a quarter century in a church which specialises in working class people of all ethnicities–and half of that in its employ–I can tell you that, to be successful “across the lake” (another Palm Beach analogy) it takes an entirely different approach, because you’re dealing with people who look at life in an entirely different way. As the U.S. becomes more and more a stratified society by class, that kind of outreach becomes more difficult, especially when it’s time for “those people” to take their place in the leadership of the church. As The Lead and others in the “Main Line” (in the Philadelphia sense) church world wonder “what the Church needs to do better to be able reach them,” they would do well to pitch trendy social theories and get into the daily reality–a reality far better depicted in the Scriptures than any progressive theory–of those who have less in this world.