The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy

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In this provocative book, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark challenge popular perceptions about American religion. They view the religious environment as a free market economy, where churches compete for souls. The story they tell is one of gains for upstart sects and losses for mainline denominations.

Although many Americans assume that religious participation has declined in America, Finke and Stark present a different picture. In 1776, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans were active in church affairs. Today, church membership includes about 6 out of 10 people.

But, as Finke and Stark show, not all denominations benefited. They explain how and why the early nineteenth-century churches began their descent, while two newcomer sects, the Baptists and the Methodists, gained ground. They also analyze why the Methodists then began a long, downward slide, why the Baptists continued to succeed, how the Catholic Church met the competition of ardent Protestant missionaries, and why the Catholic commitment has declined since Vatican II. The authors also explain why ecumenical movements always fail

In short, Americans are not abandoning religion; they have been moving away from established denominations. A "church-sect process" is always under way, Finke and Stark argue, as successful churches lose their organizational vigor and are replaced by less worldly groups.

Some observers assert that the rise in churching rates indicates increased participation, not increased belief. Finke and Stark challenge this as well. They find that those groups that have gained the greatest numbers have demanded that their followers accept traditional doctrines and otherworldliness. They argue that religious organizations can thrive only when they comfort souls and demand sacrifice. When theology becomes too logical, or too secular, it loses people.


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Page from 1926 Census of Religious Bodies Showing
The Colonial Era Revisited
Pilgrims Going to Church
Early Settlers on Their Way to Church and The Call
Henry Muhlenberg 17111787 Preaching in a Barn in 1742
George Whitefield 17141770
The Upstart Sects Win America 17761850
Lyman Beecher 17751863
Charles Grandison Finney 17921875 and His Second Wife
Camp Meeting Layouts
Family Worship at a Plantation in South Carolina
The Coming of the Catholics 18501926
Methodists Transformed Baptists Triumphant 56
Why Unification Efforts Fail 97
Why Mainline Denominations Decline
Profile Tables 1776 and 1850

Peter Cartwright 17851872
A Stately Seminary of the Colonial Mainline
A Methodist Circuit Rider

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About the author (2005)

Roger Finke is a professor of sociology and religious studies at the Pennsylvania State University and serves as the director of the American Religion Data Archive. Rodney Stark was for many years professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he became University Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University.

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