The Megachurch and the Mainline: Cultural Innovation, Change, and Conflict in Mainline Protestant Congregations, a book written by Assistant Professor of Sociology Stephen Ellingson, will be in book stores on May 1. This examination of a religion in flux—one that speaks to the growing popularity of evangelicalism in America and to the broader pathways of religious change is published by the University of Chicago Press.
Religious traditions provide the stories and rituals that define the core values of church members. Yet modern life in America can make those customs seem undesirable, even impractical. As a result, many congregations refashion church traditions so they may remain powerful and salient. This book addresses how these transformations occur as well as how clergy and worshipers negotiate which aspects should be preserved or discarded.
Focusing on the innovations of several mainline Protestant churches in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Megachurch and the Mainline provides new understandings of the transformation of spiritual traditions. From Ellingson's perspective, these particular congregations typify a new type of Lutheranism — one which combines the evangelical approaches that are embodied in the growing legion of megachurches with American society's emphasis on pragmatism and consumerism. Ellingson provides descriptions of congregations as they sacrifice hymns in favor of rock music and scrap traditional white robes and stoles for Hawaiian-style shirts, while also making readers aware of the long history of similar attempts to Americanize the Lutheran tradition.
William McKinney, president and professor of American religion at the Pacific School of Religion, said "This book makes an important contribution to the study of innovation in religion from one of the rising stars in the sociology of American religion. It will challenge both scholars and church leaders who think megachurches are the answer to the problems faced by mainline denominations and those who think they are the problem."
Ellingson came to Hamilton from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif., where he was assistant professor of the sociology of religion. He is co-author of The Sexual Organization of the City (University of Chicago Press, 2004); co-editor of Religion and Sexuality in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Routledge, 2002) and co-author of Organizational Ethics in Health Care: Principles, Cases and Practical Solutions (Jossey-Bass, 2001). Ellingson has served as book review co-editor and associate editor of the American Journal of Sociology.