Mainline Protestants

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This term refers to a group of moderate-to-liberal Protestant denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Predominantly African-American Methodist denominations are also sometimes associated with this grouping: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the AME Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The term “mainline” harks back to a time when this mostly white group was tied to the political and cultural establishment. Since the 1960s, membership in most mainline denominations has fallen precipitously, as has their influence.


  • The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is generally preferred.


  • The National Council of Churches USA encourages ecumenical cooperation among a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African-American and Peace churches. It represents 45 million people in more than 100,000 local congregations.
  • Church World Service is the relief, development and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations.
  • Individual denominations have extensive Web sites with background and contact information.


  • Nationally, mainline denominations are mired in bitter battles over homosexuality; several have considered splitting after years of annual conventions dominated by votes on the issue.Only a few officially allow the blessing of same-sex marriages or ordain noncelibate homosexuals; some clergy have been defrocked for performing same-sex marriages or acknowledging their same-sex partner.
  • Mainline denominations remain predominantly white but are working to reach out to immigrants and other races and ethnicities,with mixed success.
  • Clergy shortages are increasing and, in some denominations, severe.Most pastors are older—only 5 percent are younger than age 35—and many are on the brink of retirement.Many seminary graduates are not interested in pastoring churches,where pay can be comparatively low.
  • The mainline denominations all ordain women and were among the first to do so.Women account for about half of seminary students. Still,male clergy far outnumber women, particularly in senior pastor and regional and national ministry positions.Many female clergy complain of unequal treatment, pay and opportunities and leave church work for other fields.
  • Mainline denominations continue their longtime advocacy of social justice issues, often by combining forces with other religions and sometimes secular groups. Common causes include poverty, civil rights, interfaith understanding, environment and church/state separation issues.
    The Christian Century is the major magazine, aimed mostly at clergy and scholars.
  • Several centers offer research and resources pertaining to mainline denominations. They include Pulpit & Pew, Duke University’s Center on Pastoral Research; the Alban Institute: Resources for Congregations in Herndon,Va.; the Indianapolis Center for Congregations; and the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.
  • These denominations are active in ecumenical (among Christians) and interfaith groups on local, national and international levels and have long-standing relationships with Jews,Muslims and other faiths as well as an openness to working with most Christian denominations. These groups include Churches Uniting in Christ, whose nine member denominations have pledged to show unity by coordinating more closely, and the Interfaith Alliance.