One of the reports the stated clerk makes to the General Assembly of my church when it gathers for its annual meeting is about statistics: how many members we gained and lost, how many infants were baptized, how much money the people put in the plate. For Presbyterians—and in varying degrees for Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others—this is a sobering moment.
Forty years ago, when my kind and I were still young enough to be licensed to write crabby books (they got reviewed as “prophetic”) about American religion, the focus often fell on the public face of congregations as reflected in newspapers.
Analysts of industrial nations often are perplexed by the continuing high level of religious activity in the United States. According to historians, this persistent vitality of congregational life is the result of overlapping waves of renewal rather than a steady growth from pioneer strengths.