America's Religious Identity -- Boom, Shocks, and After-shocks (Part 1)
[T]he distinguishing features of the men now accompanying their wives to church were that they were mostly young fathers, mostly veterans, and mostly college-educated. The postwar boom in church going was fueled above all by men who had survived the Great Depression as teenagers and World War II as grunts, and were now ready at last to settle into a normal life, with a steady job, a growing family, a new house, and a car, and respectable middle-class status. Church going was an important emblem of that respectability. (American Grace, pp. 85-86).
Thus, between 1940 and 1960 church membership climbed from about 49% of the population to 69%. My parents were part of this generation -- well, my father was in the war, my mother was still in her mid-teens when the war ended and the Baby Boom began. During this period Mainline churches were out front, the bastions of religious respectability. I remember growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and our Episcopal Church was full of families. The Disciples of Christ, like many denominations, purchased land in new subdivisions and planted churches there, expecting them to boom. Consider that, according to the authors, between 1945 and 1960, in inflation-adjusted dollars, church construction went up from about $26 million to $615 million dollars. As the construction of churches expanded, people did come, at least for a time, but then as the 1960s set in things began to change. A new generation came of age and they were looking for something else besides religious respectability. But more about this "shock" generation in Part 2.
What needs to be noted here is that this generation of joiners and builders, the men and women who provided the backbone for our religious institutions and "peopled" our churches with children, are passing from the scene, and they are being replaced by generations much less interested in sustaining religious institutions. [To be continued]