Diane Butler Bass is an author, retreat leader, and seminary professor. In this book, she combines her personal church history with sociological and theological insights to present this look at the present state and future of mainline churches in the United States.
Bass’ main point is that although mainline churches have spent the last few decades losing members (hemorrhaging, some may say), that there is in fact renewal taking place in those denominations. Her focus is on the Episcopal Church, of which she has been a member since her twenties, but she believes that what she sees there applies to other mainline American churches.
Bass talks about her post-college drift away from Evangelicalism, and being drawn towards the Episcopal Church. She spent a few decades moving from city to city for career and family purposes, giving her experience at a number of different congregations. She was able to experience shrinking and growing congregations, older and younger congregations, and stable and changing congregations. All of this experience is woven skillfully into the work.
Her conclusions are interesting, and counter-cultural. I am not convinced that she will eventually be proven right, and that mainline churches will recover a leadership position in society, but her arguments are interesting. Bass has an academic background, but the personal aspects of the narrative help keep the book easily readable. She saves the most traditionally academic analysis until the last few chapters.