In the face of perceived and real declines in the importance of denominations among American churchgoers, church bodies and congregations are attempting to reassert their identities, whether through public relations campaigns or reviving older traditions.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Nov. 4) reports that two of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are engaging in multi-million dollar media campaigns to raise denominational awareness — both among their own members and among the general public. The Lutherans’ Project Identity began after a 1996 poll showed that only three percent of Americans could say anything about Lutheranism other than it was a religion.
The move toward stressing denominational identity is seen as a backlash to the megachurch, seeker service trend, where denominations and doctrine are de-emphasized in order to attract unchurched Americans who were unschooled on these fine points. Some congregations now find that many — in some cases a majority — had not grown up in their denominations. Some congregations throw out generic texts and hymns, while others start denominational training. Religious publishers are also feeling the “back to the roots” mood.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is developing its first Presbyterian-specific Sunday school curriculum in 30 years. At some seminaries, denominational training classes are starting up, with students being required to take required courses in the denomination of their choice.