Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226204901 Published May 2007
Cloth $64.00 ISBN: 9780226204895 Published May 2007
E-book $10.00 to $29.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226204925 Published September 2008 Also Available From

The Megachurch and the Mainline

Remaking Religious Tradition in the Twenty-first Century

Stephen Ellingson

The Megachurch and the Mainline

Stephen Ellingson

256 pages | 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2007
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9780226204901 Published May 2007
Cloth $64.00 ISBN: 9780226204895 Published May 2007
E-book $10.00 to $29.99 About E-books ISBN: 9780226204925 Published September 2008

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. How do these transformations occur? How do 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, Stephen Ellingson’s The Megachurch and the Mainline provides new understandings of the transformation of spiritual traditions. For Ellingson, 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. Here Ellingson provides vivid descriptions of congregations as they sacrifice hymns in favor of rock music and scrap traditional white robes and stoles for Hawaiian shirts, while also making readers aware of the long history of similar attempts to Americanize the Lutheran tradition.

This is an important examination of a religion in flux—one that speaks to the growing popularity of evangelicalism in America.

Chapter 1          The Restructuring of American Religious Traditions
Chapter 2          The Trouble with Tradition
Chapter 3          Constructing the Catalysts of Change
Chapter 4          Reframing the Tradition
Chapter 5          In the Image of Evangelicalism
Chapter 6          Conflict, Compromise, and Consensus
Chapter 7          Tradition and Change in the American Religious Landscape
Appendix: A Note on Data and Methods
Review Quotes
William McKinney, president and professor of American Religion, Pacific School of Religion
"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."
Christian Smith, University of Notre Dame

“Ellingson provides a fascinating portrayal of how mainline churches are working to renegotiate their traditions to solve perceived organizational problems and speak relevantly to contemporary Americans. The Megachurch and the Mainline insightfully uses ethnography and sociological theory to understand big changes in community, identity, leadership, strategy, and the influence of evangelicalism within American mainline Protestantism struggling in a post-traditional culture.”

Steven M. Tipton, Emory University
“Faith in flux, tradition transformed, and religious restructuring come into brilliant congregational focus in this constructivist study of the Lutheran spirit reframed and hybridized in the flesh of evangelical megachurches or liberal seeker-churches. In showing how and why nine congregations went different ways to consensus, conflict, or compromise in trying to remake themselves in practice, Ellingson reveals the larger moral drama of multivocal cultural traditions enacted in shifting social bodies to inspire the soul of American religion, inflect its institutional arc, and contest its life to come.”
Michael Wilkinson | Relgious Studies Review
"[The author] offers a very good model to understand congregational change in the United States. . . . An important contribution to the sociology of religion generally and congregational studies specifically."
Christopher Helland | Canadian Journal of Sociology
"Ellingson’s research develops into an amazing case study that challenges traditional sociology of religion theories, adding a very well developed critique of religion in the United States. . . . The book is well written, and it sheds light on the transformations underway within the religious environment in the United States."
Richard Cimino | Lutheran Quarterly
"A pathbreaking study of the interaction and clashes between Lutheran tradition and the innovations embodied in the evangelical megachurches and different kinds of spirituality."
Stephen P. Shoemaker | Sociology of Religion
"For readers interested in a detailed analysis of shifts in contemporary Protestanism, Ellingson provides a variety of thoughtful points illuminating trends in mainline denominations."
John P. Barkowsky | American Journal of Sociology
"I was impressed enough with this book to have adopted it for an upcoming graduate seminar in the sociology of religion. I am confident that it will stimulate vigorous discussion in graduate and undergraduate sociology of religion courses. The volume also provides many great examples of how theories of social change can be evaluated and even reconstructed through grounded, carefully conducted research."

Society for the Scientific Study of Religion: SSSR Distinguished Book Award

View Recent Awards page for more award winning books.
For more information, or to order this book, please visit
Google preview here

Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago Blog: Religion

Events in Religion

Keep Informed