[The Rev. Jess Felici], 36, and her husband, the Rev. Jason Felici, 33, serve together as the pastors of five churches in one of the most isolated pockets of America. Their weekly acrobatics of military-precision timing and long-distance driving are what it takes to make Sunday church services happen in a place where churchgoers are aging, pews are getting emptier and church budgets are getting smaller.While circuit riders were mostly the domain of Methodists, those who are looking back to this icon of the American frontier are not just Methodists. In fact the so-called 7 Sisters of Old Line American Protestantism are all finding themselves in need of creative ways to deal with declining fortunes. What these denominations have in common is that their yesterday was brighter than their today and tomorrow. The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are all bleeding off members and a shell of their former selves. Between a third and half of their membership is no more and those who remain are graying faster than America. That has left congregations selling off buildings, closing their doors, and searching for ways to keep the lights on a little longer.
What is so strange here is that you would never know about this by reading the media or listening to the news. While you might hear about a resurrection of the old circuit rider idea, what is not in the story is why things are in such tough shape. Perhaps it is because the news media does not know or it might just be that the news media is sympathetic to the liberal and progressive stands taken by these declining churches and so they refuse to connect the dots. In either case the media is hiding the most significant story in American religion. The big story is what is emptying these churches -- a full embrace of the most radical social positions on everything from climate change to globalism to GLBTQ+ agendas to gender fluidity to population control while at the same time distancing themselves more and more from Biblical truth, the reliability of the text, and their own historic confessions.
Now to be sure, holding the line on the faith against the pressure of cultural change does not guarantee success but it has slowed the decline. In the LCMS our decline has largely mirrored the trends in the population around them. That is not an excuse or justification for sitting on our hands but what it does do is remind us that much of the problem has been caused by us. Among the causes, the failure to effectively teach the faith to our children, to properly catechize those new to the faith, to hold up marriage and children as godly and good, to equip our people to give witness to the hope within them, and to strive for and sacrifice for excellence in all we do (starting with Sunday morning!). It is an uphill battle but it is not a lost cause. We are not preaching a hollow message with a mythological gospel. We have the Word through which God works. Perhaps we need to believe it more. And perhaps those 7 sisters need to reconsider how they have distorted and diluted the faith in order to appear more in step with the times. Otherwise all the creative approaches you can come up with will only prolong the inevitable.