Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt has urged members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to move beyond their comfort zones as they seek new ways to evangelize and combat declining baptism rates.
My home congregation is in some ways emblematic of the dilemmas facing mainline Protestants. Bethel Peniel Presbyterian Church is located in a small town in upstate New York where Presbyterians were dominant in the 18th century and numerous in the 19th. A century ago, one of its predecessor churches had more than 300 members—as many as the building could hold.
According to a study by Giving USA Foundation, religious organizations reported a 0.7 percent decrease in donations last year—a marked contrast from the 5.5 percent increase in giving reported in 2008.
Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, a French Catholic, says that if you don’t show up early for mass at his parish in Paris, you might have to sit on folding chairs in a spillover space or even sit on the floor. There’s nothing unusual about his parish priest, although he does have Pope Francis’s spirit of generosity. Gobry’s parish is like other urban areas in France. Despite the country’s reputation for secularism, Gobry thinks the French church may be on the verge of a time of renewal (The Week, January 15).