“I’m very upbeat about what’s happening in the mainline church. I know that there are some congregations that will die because of demographics or whatever, and of course, we’ll never be as strong as we were a half-century ago. Granted, I probably see the best of the mainline churches. But I am very encouraged by what I see. I see a recovery of taking God seriously. I see a recovery of spiritual practice. I see a very large appetite for reclaiming the Bible and reclaiming Jesus. And I’ve been doing education within the church, not just within the academy, but within the church for about 40 years, and I see a much larger appetite and interest now than I have at any other time in my life, compared to 15, 20 and 25 years ago.
I also see the possibility for alliances between what’s called “emergent” Christianity in evangelical circles and much of what is going on in mainstream and mainline churches.
The other thing I wanted to comment about in terms of the mainline churches is that until about 40 years ago (and one sociologist of religion I know actually says the year was 1963) there was a cultural expectation that everyone would belong to a church. So long as there was this cultural expectation in place, mainline denominations did very well because they offered a culturally respectable way of being Christian. If you were a mainline Christian no one would ask you to do anything too weird, and there was a kind of community respect in the mainline denominations.
Roughly 40 years ago that changed, so that people born after the year 1963 have grown up in a culture where that expectation has vanished. Mainline churches, as a result, have declined. Now mainline denominations today are a mixture of people who became Christian for conventional reasons a half-century or more ago and people who have come in later because they’re intentional about the Christian life.
Some of the people who became mainline Christians for conventional reasons have experienced a deepening of the spirit and a growth in the Christian life, and so forth, so that they’re in church for more reasons than convention. But we’re only about 20 years away from the time when the only people left in mainline churches will be those who are there with intentionality. And that’s very exciting. We’ll be smaller in numbers, but the possibility of our being a genuinely alternative community, an alternative voice in society, is much greater than in the mid-20th century when to be a respectable [citizen] and a respectable Christian went hand in hand.
So I’m already seeing signs of a greater vibrancy in mainline churches because of the fact that conventional reasons for being Christian have largely evaporated.”
From an interview with Marcus Borg at http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/interviews/borg.asp