Rekindling The Mainline: New Life Through New Churches

by Stephen C. Compton. The Alban Institute, 2003.

Stephen Compton proposes planting new churches as a solution to declining membership in mainline denominations. To support his argument, he documents the parallel between the decline in new congregations and the decline in mainline denominational membership over the past 50 years. However, Compton would not limit efforts only to creating new congregations. He would add renewing the spirit and practice of older congregations. Presenting personal anecdotes, real church experiences, and fictional church stories, this book explores the dilemma of decline and the opportunity for growth in the context of twenty-first century culture and demographics.

Growing mainline denominations begins with focusing on new church development, not just as a temporary program, but as a long-term priority. Compton suggests a 30-30-30 goal: in 30 years, at least 30 percent of a denomination’s churches should be under 30 years old. For this to happen, effective leadership is essential—so essential that the book devotes a full chapter to it.

A typical church’s life cycle is described from 'birth' to 'vitality' to 'equilibrium' to 'decline', and perhaps even to 'death'. Yet, the author does not see this cycle as inevitable. He points to places where the cycle can change by shifting a congregation's focus away from defining its future in terms of its past.

This book will prove useful for individuals and committees within denominations responsible for planting new churches, for clergy and lay leaders of older churches seeking revitalization, and for those concerned with the decline in mainline church membership.