U.S. Churches Feel Beat of Change: More Diversity, More Drums

A church with a sign welcoming gay and lesbian members. Photo courtesy of Ivan Cholakov via Shutterstock/RNS.

U.S. religious congregations are marching to their own drums now more than ever.

The National Congregations Study‘s latest look at the country’s churches, synagogues and mosques — the third wave of studies that began in 1998 —  finds more congregations:

  • Open their doors to gays and lesbians in active membership and in leadership.
  • Show racial and ethnic diversity in the pews.
  • Encourage hand-waving, amen-shouting, and dancing-in-the-aisles during worship.
  • Disconnect from denominational ties doctrines and rules that might slow or block change.

The study, released Thursday (Sept. 11), draws on interviews with leaders at 1,331 nationally representative congregations and updates data from 1998 and 2006 studies.  Non-Christian congregations were included in the study but there are too few for statistical analysis by topics.

Failing to See God's Love

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

You are a pastor. You work six days a week, sometimes seven. You are on call 24/7. Every detail of your life is out there for public consumption. People project their unresolved issues onto you, especially parental issues from their childhoods.

By church rules, you are entitled to a sabbatical, perhaps three months every seven years. But when you propose it, you hear what one pastor heard the other day: “Sabbaticals are for academics who are making a significant contribution to their field, not for clergy who want an extended vacation and can’t take working for a living.”

What do you say?

In that one dismissive sentence, someone you trust tells you your work is insignificant, you want a benefit that you don’t deserve, and you’re lazy. What do you do?

VIDEO: “ReMoved”

Every child deserves a home. Yet 400,000 children are being raised within the U.S. foster care system. Who will look out for them?

All in the Family” (Sojourners, June 2014), by Julienne Gage, tells the hopeful story of churches stepping up to care for these children of God. As part of the “127 movement,” churches across the country are mobilizing to provide homes and support for these foster children. Read this inspiring story.

To learn more about the foster care system, watch “ReMoved”—an award-winning, short film about a young girl’s journey as a ward of the state.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

175 Leaders Urge U.S. Support In Christianity's Historical Heartland; Egyptian Churches Not So Sure

Beyond the NAE, signatories included Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; Charles Chaput, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia; and Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Other prominent supporters include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church; Johnnie Moore, senior vice president of Liberty University; and Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine.

The Struggles of Christian Parenting

Father and son, Rob Marmion /

Father and son, Rob Marmion /

Every mother and father know the struggles, frustrations, unrealistic expectations, horrific fears, and exhaustive drama associated with raising children, but let me just say this: Christianity adds an entirely new dimension to the chaos that is parenting.

Besides an assortment of play dates, sports activities, school classes, music events, and other social obligations, Christianity requires the additional burden of attending an endless array of church activities.

Mission trips, youth groups, service projects, summer camps, volunteer activities, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, evangelism outings, and church services require tons of time — it’s a huge commitment.

Christian culture goes out of its way to accommodate parents and their children, and while this is a good thing, it also adds social expectations that can often feel burdensome and frenetic — leading to burnout.

7 Things Churches No Longer Do (But Should)

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion /

Pastor with Bible, Rob Marmion /

Our changing cultural values continually affect our spiritual lives and often shape our church experiences. Today’s churches aren’t immune from social trends and factors, and here are a few traditional practices that are becoming extinct within faith communities:

1. Discipline:

In a spiritual climate that’s extremely sensitive and wary of legalism, any type of authoritative action taken by a pastor or church can be highly explosive — often interpreted as aggressive, controversial, and hurtful.

Previous church models of authority and discipline have been so abused, and have such a bad historical reputation, that many Christian communities have simply abandoned the practice of church discipline.

Combine these factors with an overwhelming selection of churches to attend — where any type of discomfort can result in parishioners leaving to go elsewhere — and you can understand why spiritual leaders are reluctant to enforce any type of accountability.

Breast-Feeding on the Rise, but in Church, It’s Still an Issue

 Unknown artist/Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Nursing Madonna (Madonna Lactans) Unknown artist/Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Jesus was breast-fed.

It’s a point often made by mothers who want to breast-feed in church, but know others would prefer that they retreat to the nursery, or find an out-of-the-way bench. Another point they make: Breast-feeding is part of God’s plan — so of all places, why not in church?

“Breasts were made to feed a baby,” said Misti Ryan, a devout Christian lactation consultant in Texas whose business has a cross in its logo.

A mother can breast-feed modestly and should be allowed to nurse in church if she wants to, said Ryan, who has nursed five children in her Baptist congregation. “The church needs to go there.”

Pope Francis did go there last month, in his much-noted comment to a journalist about a young mother and infant who had come to a recent general audience:

“She was shy and didn’t want to breast-feed in public, while the pope was passing,” Francis recalled. “I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”

Help! I Love Jesus but Hate Christianity!


Many Christians are tired of having others define their faith. Anneka/Shutterstock

Sentiments of frustration are growing among many followers of Jesus who admire Christ but despise certain things associated with him.

They look at the New Testament and are attracted to Jesus’s selfless acts of generosity, service, and love, but don’t see the same spirit in today’s “Christian” institutions, churches, communities, and faith leaders.

Modern faith is often a complex minefield of theologies, doctrines, practices, and expectations, where individuals carefully walk on eggshells to avoid a litany of “sins” and “heresies” that will inevitably attract the wrath from religious friends, strangers, and authorities. 

14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014

Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

Churches aren't doing enough Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock

With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different from the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world, or stop biting their nails.  New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.

Resolutions, however, are not just for people. I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014 if it is to thrive, grow, and be relevant in the 21st century.