The Church of Christ Scientist is attempting to reverse its declining membership, which appears to be causing new divisions in the denomination, according to U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 16).
In the face of a sharp decline of Christian Science congregations and official healers or “practitioners” (dropping from 8,000 in the early 1960s to about 2,000 today) the leadership has embarked on a campaign to renovate the denomination. Church officials are now frequent participants in medical-spirituality conferences exploring mind-body connections (which was once discouraged) and a new mass-market edition of founder Mary Baker Eddy’s manual, “Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,” is being marketed toward spiritual seekers with some success. Annual sales of the new edition have hit 100,000, making it a bestseller among religious books.
Some leaders believe that new readers of Eddy’s book are finding their way to Christian Science churches, although there are not yet any solid signs of growth in the church, reports Jeffrey Sheler. Yet the new approach of appealing to the spiritual marketplace has intensified divisions in the church. One “loosely knit network of dissenters” has protested that the new strategy effectively waters down Christian Science teachings to attract “dabblers in spirituality.”
Even friendlier critics say that the denomination faces tough competition in the drive to reach spiritual seekers, especially as many New Age and alternative spirituality groups and books offer similar teachings but without the Christian Science demands of personal piety and adherence to a Christian worldview.