Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

by Robert D. Putnam. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Connections among people, including those experienced in religious institutions, have value for individuals and society. This value, or “social capital,” has been analyzed by social scientists for many years. Yet in recent years social capital has declined and social and civic malaise has grown, as people have become less engaged with each other. Robert Putnam explores this decreasing engagement in a wide variety of areas: politics and public affairs, civic clubs and community organizations, work-related organizations, social clubs and informal gatherings, and religious bodies. He notes that while nearly all Americans believe in God, and 75 percent believe in immortality, religious-body membership has declined continuously since the 1950's. Putnam helps readers understand that this decline is most significantly a generational issue. Moreover, while new religious organizations have emerged in recent years, they have been less connected to the wider community than older denominations. The author also writes about changing patterns of trust and altruism in America. This book will be useful to any in a congregation who are interested in understanding or addressing declining membership, especially as it is connected to declines in most other forms of civic and social engagement.