For at least the past generation, mainline Protestants have been worried about declines in membership. One camp has taken up the rallying cry of conservatives (and some vocal sociologists) who claim that theological “strictness” and clear church-culture boundaries mark the path to reversing this decline. Others have claimed that the church’s aim is not to be “successful” by the world’s standards. If God wants the people to come, they will come.
After more than a decade of studying American congregational life (and a lifetime of investment in Baptist congregations), I am convinced that neither of these stances is helpful.