Monday, July 30, 2007
University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox has an article in First Things exploring the connection between the traditional family and church attendance. He also addresses mainline Protestant churches' efforts to reach out beyond the traditional family:
Perhaps the most visible example of this strategy is the recent “God Is Still Speaking” advertising campaign from the United Church of Christ (UCC). The “Ejector Pew” commercial from this campaign has attracted attention. It depicts a WASP upper-middle-class nuclear family settling comfortably into a church pew as unconventional families—a black single mother, a gay couple, a single man, and so on—are ejected from their pews. The commercial closes with this tag: “The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
This campaign—and the larger sentiment behind it—is doubly ironic. First, despite their inclusive rhetoric, mainline Protestant congregations are actually less likely to have single parents, single adults, and married couples without children than are evangelical Protestant churches. Mainline Protestant churches attract upper-middle-class people who live in conventional families but also aspire to the progressive cultural conventions of their class, which is to say, they walk right and talk left. Evangelical Protestant churches attract working- and middle-class people who hail from a range of different family situations but who now aspire to live in accord with God’s plan for their lives.
The UCC campaign is also ironic because it embraces the trends that have been the undoing of the UCC—indeed, of all the mainline. Because they are less likely to adopt a strict and strongly supernatural religious orientation, and to offer an intense experience of communal life centered on God, churchly traditions such as mainline Protestantism depend more on the rhythms and realities of family life to draw men and women into the life of the church. The average young man raised in a Congregationalist home isn’t likely to enter his local UCC church on any day except Christmas and Easter—unless he finds himself married with children.