In recent years, observers of the religious scene in the United States have commented on two trends that at first glance appear to be contradictory. On the one hand, they have noted that the main institutional forms of religionthat is, the mainline churches and denominationshave experienced little, if any, growth. In fact, several of the larger denominations have lost membership. (Financial pressures have also been common.) On the other hand, interest in religious matters in the general public seems to be on the increase.
Rather than being contradictory, the presence of these two trends suggests that a reasonably important shift may be occurring in the expression Americans give to their religious beliefs. Mainline churches are only one of the options available, and increasing numbers of persons are seeking alternative forms through which to express their spirituality.
Donald Miller, professor of religion at the University of Southern California, calls one alternative form the "new paradigm churches." To represent this emerging new shape for Christianity in this country, Miller has identified three of the fastest growing movements within Christianity in this or any other time period in history, and has spent several years studying their growth. The result is Reinventing American Protestantism, a thoughtful, largely sympathetic but provocative book.
In the less than 40 years since the first of these congregations/communities was started, Calvary Chapel, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and Hope Chapel have together generated more than 1,000 other congregations/ communities in both the United States and other countries. Such communities give structured form to the religious and spiritual interests of persons no longer loyal to traditional forms of religious expression. In giving one institutional embodiment to the second trend noted above, these congregations/communities also provide one explanation for the first trend.