Do Denominations Matter? (3 of 6)

The decline of denominations
Since the middle of the 20th century, however, a wide range of indicators have suggested that denominational allegiance – especially to U.S. Catholic and mainstream Protestant denominations – is on a steady decline.

The percentage of adults who claim “no religious preference” is rising, jumping from 7 percent in 1991 to 16 percent today, and the percentage of young adults who have “no religious preference” is nearly twice that. So fewer people are ready to identify themselves explicitly as Christians.

In addition, loyalty to particular denominations is eroding. Of the six mainline Protestant denominations – all of which have been losing members for 40 years – worship attendance declined in real numbers by 12 percent between 1994 and 2005. That number is even larger if you consider membership as a percentage of the total population.

At the same time, the average age of members in most denominations is increasing. Among Mennonites, for example, the average age has jumped from 49 to 54 over the past 15 years, while the number of young people under the age of 45 in our congregations declined from 54 percent to 30 percent.

Over the past decade, virtually all denominations have faced significant budget reductions, with declining dollars available for missions, publications, education and administration.

Meanwhile, the tendency to move freely from one denomination to another has become much more common. In 1955, only 1 in 25 people changed denominations in their lifetime. In 1985, the figure was 1 in 3. Today it is closer to 1 in 2. According to a recent survey, one-third of Mennonite Church USA members agree with the statement “Church denominations do not matter.”