Excerpts from an article in the StarTribune:
When La Salle Lutheran locks its doors in August, it will become the latest casualty among fragile Minnesota churches either closing, merging or praying for a miracle. Steep drops in church attendance, aging congregations, and cultural shifts away from organized religion have left most of Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations facing unprecedented declines.“Sunday used to be set aside for church: that’s what families did,” said Donna Schultz, 74, a church member since grade school at La Salle, in southwest Minnesota. “Now our children have moved away. The grandkids have volleyball, dance on weekends. People are busy with other things...Mainline Protestant churches have been hit the hardest. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Minnesota has lost almost 200,000 members since 2000 and about 150 churches. A third of the remaining 1,050 churches have fewer than 50 members. The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in Minnesota, has shuttered 65 churches since 2000.Catholic membership statewide has held steady, but the number of churches fell from 720 in 2000 to 639 last year, according to official Catholic directories. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which closed 21 churches in 2010 and merged several dozen others, is again looking at ways to consolidate church staffing and programs...And it seems likely to get worse. Most Americans still report that they are Christian, but the worshipers in the pews on Sunday increasingly have gray or white hair. The median age is older than 50 for nearly all mainline Protestant denominations, according to the Pew Research Center, a national polling and research group in Washington, D.C. For Catholics, it’s age 49...Churches in every rural area are merging and sharing services in an effort to keep their doors open, bishops said. The ELCA now offers advisers who specialize in counseling closing and fragile churches, and finance experts to help churches survive with ever-shrinking budgets...Along with declining attendance, many Twin Cities churches facing closings and mergers have something else in common — old boilers or furnaces, leaky roofs, deferred maintenance...Even so, Minnesota religious leaders insist church life is not becoming a relic. It will just look different. Christian churches will need to be more creative, financially leaner, and more in tune with their communities if they are to survive the 21st century, they said.
More at the link. The article mentions some prominent urban churches, but I suspect the majority of the closings are in rural communities, which suffer from the double whammy of the changing attitudes of young people plus the progressive depopulation of rural towns, as large corporate farms displace the traditional small family enterprises.
Whatever your sentiments are regarding religion - even if you are frankly agnostic or aggressively atheist, you have to recognize the loss going on here in terms of the social structure of these small towns. In communities of a few thousand residents, churches have traditionally provided the backbone of support for the elderly, the impoverished, and the troubled youth. This aspect of community mutual support is emphasized in the brief but touching video at the bottom of the article, which I'm unable to embed. It's worth 3 minutes of viewing.
Photo credit Leila Navidi - Star Tribune.