USA Today has a story on recent Pew Forum survey that shows that 48% of Americans are “Protestant,” 22% Roman, and 20% are slotted under “none,” and 6% under “other” (the greater share of which one guesses is Islam, which is gaining a strong foothold in major American cities and even in smaller, more rural areas).
Reader of Nathan Hatch’s monumental work on 19th-century American religion, The Democratization of American Christianity, however, will not be much surprised to see that religious disaffiliation continues. See also James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985) for an account of what happened to Christianity in America at the end of the 19th century. There is a connection between the story that Hatch tells and the story that Turner tells and what we’re seeing today.
Anyone who has planted a church in the last 25 years has probably read literature advising one not to advertise the church’s denominational affiliation. Why? Because Americans, since the early 19th century, have tended to distrust institutions, including denominations. They don’t want to think that their congregation is accountable to other churches “out there” and especially not to a hierarchy. Thus, Presbyterian and Reformed congregations have taken to calling themselves “community” churches in order to create a favorable impression upon independent-minded Americans.
How should confessional Reformed folk navigate such a world? Some have been tempted to give up the struggle and simply adopt the Revivalist model. Arguably the Emergent/-ing movements are an attempt to adapt but those movements have now become obviously institutionalized as mall-like churches now apply emergent looking names to themselves. Others are react by imitating Anglicanism or Catholicism . There is another way. I tried to sketch such an approach in the essay on “Sister” Aimee in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey. It’s now available as an inexpensive e-book. See also Recovering the Reformed Confession and D. G. Hart’s, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism.