I’ve been sharing my opinions on what I believe the future holds for the American church over the past few posts, attempting to give you all an idea of what flavor the church is going to have, or at least could have, if all the pieces fall together like I believe they might, or at least, wish they would.  I’ve identified five spices that are going to play a big role in what this pot of hash we call church tastes like twenty years from now.  They are:

1) Ministry as a “career” vs. “calling”.             

2) The evangelical response to growth in orthodox denominations.

3)  Return to liturgical practices:  Here to stay?

4) Fundamentalism vs. Mysticism.

5) Church planting: Evangelical fad or built to last?

Today, we’ll devote some time to looking at the evangelical response to growth in orthodox denominations.

First, I need to define what I mean by orthodox:

-Not necessarily Eastern Orthodox, but does include that denomination.

-Some are evangelical (Anglican, Presbyterian, etc.), but don’t look like a typical Baptist church in their practices.

-Sacramental in tradition.

-Adhere to a form of Episcopal order of church government (Bishops, Priests, Deacons).

-Practice historical forms of baptism (infant baptism, for example).

-Have a liturgical system of function (use the church calendar, lectionary, liturgical order of worship, etc.).

-Acknowledge that the first 1500 years of Christianity did, in fact, occur, and that there is some intrinsic value left over from that period in church history.

I would consider churches or denominations that adhere to the above as orthodox with a lower-case “o”.  Eastern Orthodox, which has an upper-case “O”, is a denomination unto itself, but is orthodox, with a lower case “o”, as well.

I’m also considering the growth in popularity of reformed theology, which is difficult to quantify.  They may not love rood screens, vestments, and chant as much as I do, but Presbyterians are sacramental in their theology, so, at least for the purposes of this blog, I would consider them orthodox.

I recently looked at numbers from the The Pew Research Center, perused some denominational websites, and came up with the following info:

+ The five largest denominations are:

1) Catholic (Over 1 billion world-wide; 68 million in the U.S.)

2) Eastern Orthodox (200 million; 2 million in the U.S.)

3) Anglican (82 million; 36 million in Africa; 26 million in England; 4 million in the U.S.)

4) Lutheran (75 million; 13 million in the U.S.)

5) Baptist (47 million world-wide; 40 million in the U.S.)

+ According to a 2007 USA Today article, the fastest-growing denomination in the U.S. is…..drum roll, please….Eastern Orthodox!?!

Is this surprising to anyone out there?

A number of eye-opening things are occurring in Orthodox (with an upper-case “O”) circles:

-More than 200 U.S. parishes have been opened since 1990, and are reporting positive growth.

– 43% of Orthodox seminarians in the U.S. are converts, not immigrants from Eastern European countries, or folks raised in that system of belief.

-Whitney Jones Religious News Service reports that the Orthodox Church has grown by 16% over the past ten years.

Here’s some additional data to consider about orthodox (lower case “o”) traditions:

– The National Council of Churches’ 2010 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reported that the Catholic Church grew by 1.49% in the U.S. in 2010.

– The Presbyterian Church of America reported 1.96% growth from 2003-2007.

– Every Protestant denomination in the U.S. reported loss in their memberships in 2010, outside of the aforementioned PCA, and the Church of God, which reported a 1.27% increase in its membership from the year before.

– Since the birth of the Anglican Church of North America a couple of years back, Archbishop Robert Duncan has proclaimed that the ACNA is the fastest-growing denomination in the States.  I haven’t seen the numbers, so I can’t say for sure.  I can say that the ACNA is committed to planting 1000 churches over the next few years, and has made excellent progress in doing so.  I hate to admit it, because of my own ACNA leanings, but there are a lot of disaffected Episcopalians in those numbers.  PCA also includes a large number of former PCUSA folks.  These truths might skew the numbers a bit, in the minds of many.