Only Liberal Denominations Are Declining? The Real, Data-Driven Answer

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Church Answers Research

It’s a phrase I often hear when discussing denominational membership data in the United States.  

“Liberal churches are declining, while conservative ones are holding steady or growing.”

This narrative has become deeply embedded in the vernacular of many American evangelicals. In 2005, Dave Shiflett wrote a book called  Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, which made that point exceedingly clear. At the time of its publication, its subtitle was supported by substantial empirical data. However, in the nearly two decades since its publication, the landscape of denominational Protestant Christianity has changed dramatically. As a result, many conclusions drawn by the author no longer apply.

Social scientists studying religion divide white Protestants into two distinct camps: evangelical and mainline. Mainline denominations derive their name from their historical practice of building churches on the main thoroughfares of growing American cities and towns. This practice was widespread in the

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