Mainline churches could take a lesson from what has been and is happening to network TV.

Remember when there were only three TV networks? ABC, CBS, and NBC. They had a monopoly on the television market. Sound familiar, mainline church? Up until the 1960s, mainline denominations had as close to a monopoly on the market as you could get. Like the three networks, mainlines were the mainstream Christianity.

Network TV and Mainline Churches

Now look at what has happened.  Over the past twenty years, cable networks like USA and TNT have emerged with almost as much new programming as the three core TV networks. I wonder if mainline leaders hear the train coming.

Now look even closer.  As the network TV ratings continue to go down every year, the programs of the three networks take off more and more time each year until we are lucky if they do 20 shows a year. And they take all the summer off while the cable networks flood the summer with some of the best programs of the year. Mainlines, are you listening? Most mainline churches take the entire summer off when it comes to the choir showing up.  Can’t you see what is happening? Like the three networks, you are losing market shares.

I loved the mainline tribe I was part of.  But still I watched my tribe decline every year because, like the three TV networks, we thought we owned it all and that would never change.  We were the second biggest denomination and were too big to fail. Well, believe me, it has changed. Mainlines no longer own center stage. If the trend continues, most of us will be out on the streets looking for a job or merged with another group with whom we don’t have much in common.

I could make a pun about us as mainliners. Maybe that’s what we are mainliners, people who shoot up with some form of magic dust that clouds our eyes and hearts to what is happening to us. Maybe we should wake up and smell the roses and quit shooting oursselves in the foot by continuing to increase the salary of pastors who don’t produce disciples, or allowing a full time choir director to have only one choir, or the choir taking off the whole summer, or reducing services in the summer, or hiring a youth director before hiring a full-time worship leader, or giving our pastor a sabbatical after just a few years, or excusing our decline by saying we won’t water down the gospel like the independents, or allowing bullying church members to rule the roost as they attempt to keep God’s grace to themselves… well, the list goes on.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone.  What am I saying?  I hope I have pissed you off enough to cause you to say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to stand for this anymore.  I’m going to do something about it.” “I’m going to change the way I pastor and the way the church makes disciples.” If I’ve done that, I’ve succeeded.

Every church I’ve seen turn around did so because it got a new pastor.  Either it literally got a new pastor or the existing pastor had an epiphany.  Maybe it’s time you and I had one. Better yet, maybe its time our leaders had one.  You think?

Over the years I made some predictions, most of which have or are becoming true. I have one to make about mainline denominations. Here it is: Unless we change our ways and regain our passion for those far from God, over the next 20 years every mainline denomination will lose  more than 1/2 of its total membership.  For some denominations, that means either merger or extinction. With a declining membership with an average age of 60+ already, one doesn’t have to be very smart to do the math.

Question: How do you think mainline denominations can defend against this predicted decline? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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