Though the past quarter century has been a challenging, sometimes discouraging time for mainline congregations and their leaders, many positive things, often hidden from public view or statistical analysis, have been going on. Many mainline congregations have learned to see scripture afresh, have profited from more biblical preaching and have rediscovered the power and beauty of worship. There has been an explosion of creative new hymnody, reflected and made available in a host of new hymnals. Mainline churches have rethought and reframed their social and political witness in a way that has deepened rather than diminished it. As interest in “spirituality” has grown in the larger culture, many mainline congregations have deepened their own forms of Christian piety through Bible study and prayer, spiritual direction and formation, and a renewed appreciation for the rites and rituals of the church.
Anthony B. Robinson is president of Seattle-based Congregational Leadership Northwest and coauthor, with Robert W. Wall, of Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day (forthcoming from Eerdmans).