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The Churching of America, 1776-2005

The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Churching of America, 1776-2005
    Book Description:

    In this provocative book, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark challenge popular perceptions about American religion. They view the religious environment as a free market economy, where churches compete for souls. The story they tell is one of gains for upstart sects and losses for mainline denominations.Although many Americans assume that religious participation has declined in America, Finke and Stark present a different picture. In 1776, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans were active in church affairs. Today, church membership includes about 6 out of 10 people.But, as Finke and Stark show, not all denominations benefited. They explain how and why the early nineteenth-century churches began their descent, while two newcomer sects, the Baptists and the Methodists, gained ground. They also analyze why the Methodists then began a long, downward slide, why the Baptists continued to succeed, how the Catholic Church met the competition of ardent Protestant missionaries, and why the Catholic commitment has declined since Vatican II. The authors also explain why ecumenical movements always failIn short, Americans are not abandoning religion; they have been moving away from established denominations. A "church-sect process" is always under way, Finke and Stark argue, as successful churches lose their organizational vigor and are replaced by less worldly groups.Some observers assert that the rise in churching rates indicates increased participation, not increased belief. Finke and Stark challenge this as well. They find that those groups that have gained the greatest numbers have demanded that their followers accept traditional doctrines and otherworldliness. They argue that religious organizations can thrive only when they comfort souls and demand sacrifice. When theology becomes too logical, or too secular, it loses people.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4113-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  7. Chapter 1 A New Approach to American Religious History
    (pp. 1-24)

    We did not intend to make major revisions to the history of American religion, but unless reason and arithmetic have failed us, we have done precisely that. It seems appropriate, therefore, to begin this study with an explanation of how it took shape and why we were so often forced to challenge the received wisdom about American religious history.

    The most striking trend in the history of religion in America is its growth—or what we call the churching of America. The backbone of this book consists of our attempt to explore and explain how and why America shifted from...

  8. Chapter 2 The Colonial Era Revisited
    (pp. 25-54)

    Nostalgia is the enemy of history. No educated person any longer believes that the ancients were correct about a fall from a Golden Age. Yet we frequently accept equally inaccurate tales about more recent “good old days”—tales that corrupt our understanding of the past and mislead us about the present.

    Americans are burdened with more nostalgic illusions about the colonial era than about any other period in their history. Our conceptions of the time are dominated by a few powerful illustrations of Pilgrim scenes that most people over forty stared at year after year on classroom walls: the baptism...

  9. Chapter 3 The Upstart Sects Win America, 1776–1850
    (pp. 55-116)

    In 1776 the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians seemed to be the colonial denominations. Of Americans active in a religious body, 55 percent belonged to one of the three. And at the time it seemed certain that these groups would continue to be the “mainline” for the foreseeable future. Indeed, in 1761 Ezra Stiles using a demographic projection technique taught him by Benjamin Franklin, proclaimed that one hundred years hence there would be seven million Congregationalists in the colonies and fewer than four hundred thousand Baptists. But by 1860 there were actually fewer than five hundred thousand Congregationalists in America, while...

  10. Chapter 4 The Coming of the Catholics, 1850–1926
    (pp. 117-155)

    Too often the growth and vigor of American Catholicism are simply explained as a matter of immigration. All the priests had to do was stand at the gangplanks and enroll the faithful as they disembarked—a task made all the easier because these newcomers were people accustomed to “blind obedience.”

    In truth, most of the millions of immigrants from “Catholic” nations who flowed into the United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century were at bestpotentialAmerican Catholic parishioners. To tap this potential, the Roman Catholic Church had to counteract the vigorous efforts of Protestant sects to...

  11. Chapter 5 Methodists Transformed, Baptists Triumphant
    (pp. 156-196)

    When we left them in 1850, the Methodists had just achieved a virtual miracle of growth, rising from less than 3 percent of the nation’s church members in 1776 to more than 34 percent by 1850, making them far and away the largest religious body in the nation. But by 1890 they had been overtaken by the Roman Catholics.

    Histories of American religion attribute this shift to the rising tide of Catholic immigrants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. But that’s not the whole story. It was not simply a rising tide of Catholics that cut the Methodist...

  12. Chapter 6 Why Unification Efforts Fail
    (pp. 197-234)

    In 1959, Eugene Carson Blake, a leader of the United Presbyterian Church who had just completed his term as president of the National Council of Churches, noted that the latestYearbook of American Churcheslisted 258 separate denominations. Of course, he pointed out, the twenty-four largest of these bodies accounted for more than 80 percent of America’s church members. Still, “even twenty-four churches . . . is entirely too many” (1959, p. 76).

    Blake’s solution was religious unity, to be achieved through what he referred to as the “ecumenical mission” of the churches—a mission to bring about mergers among...

  13. Chapter 7 Why “Mainline” Denominations Decline
    (pp. 235-284)

    If there is one urgent lesson we have learned from our historical studies of American religion it is this: anyone who plans to write about religious change in America should first consult Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, itis thatwhich shall be; and that which is doneisthat which shall be done: andthereis no newthingunder the sun.” Unfortunately for the social sciences, verse 11 points out that there is “no remembrance of formerthings.” Partly because we seldom work with historical materials, social scientists have tended to treat most religious changes as...

  14. Appendix: Profile Tables, 1776 and 1850
    (pp. 285-294)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 295-304)
  16. Reference List
    (pp. 305-332)
  17. Index
    (pp. 333-348)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-350)