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The Only Constant is Change

One of the gifts that the 150th Anniversary Committee gave our congregation was the historical timeline mounted in the breezeway. Whether one rushes by or takes time to read every word, it’s impossible to miss the fact that our congregation has changed considerably over the past 150 years. Eden has changed. Eden is changing, and we will continue to change. We are not unique in this regard.


The National Congregations Study conducted by Professor Mark Chavez from Duke University documents the most significant changes that have occurred among U.S. congregations in the past generation. Highlights follow:


1)         Believers are increasingly concentrated in very large congregations. Small congregations are getting smaller, and large congregations are getting larger. In 1998, for example, the median worship attendance for a congregation was 80. By 2012 it was 70. Yet most members attend a large congregation. One in 10 participates in a multi-site congregation and half belong to the largest 7% of US congregations.


2)         There is growing diversity among and within congregations. Only 11% of churchgoers participated in all-white congregations in 2012 compared with 20% in 1998. Predominantly Euro-American congregations are welcoming increasing numbers of Hispanic and Asian-Americans, and acceptance of LGBT members and lay leaders increased substantially between 2006 and 2012.


3)         Many pastors (more than one-third) are now bi-vocational, meaning that they hold another job, and nearly 14% of all congregations are led by volunteer pastors.


4)         Worship services, particularly in historically white Mainline Protestant congregations, are becoming more informal and expressive. More churches are using contemporary music and projection equipment, while fewer are including organ music. The most significant change in worship has been the drop in choral music, down from 61% to 37%.


5)         Trends in giving to congregations are holding steady, with members of smaller congregations giving at higher rates than members of larger congregations. Meanwhile, an increasing number of congregations (11%) are retaining 100% of offerings for local mission, rather than passing on a percentage to their denominations.


6)         Most congregations (87%) engage in some form of social service. Food assistance is the most common. About 1/3 of the congregations studied engage in political activity, including voter education and registration, and public demonstrations.


What exactly Eden will be like in another decade remains to be seen, but the fact that we will be different is guaranteed. Why? Part of the answer is that there are forces at work in and around us that we do not control. Some are cultural, and some are spiritual. I look forward to seeing how it all turns out!


Pastor Arlene