What Will Make the Top Church News of 2014?

Hillsong Church NYC
The Institute on Religion and Democracy predicts church attendance will increase in major cities, such as New York City, in 2014. Hillsong Church NYC, which opened its doors in 2010, sees about 5,000 worshippers every week. (Hillsong Church NYC, Facebook)

Editor's Note: Below are the Institute on Religion and Democracy's predictions for what religious news stories have potential to make headlines in the coming year.

Polygamy will gain as an issue in religion and society. With a court ruling in Utah and increasing public fascination with polygamous unions, accommodation of the practice—and debate over its consequences for women—will spread.

Church attendance will increase in major cities. Ongoing success of young churches in New York and Washington paired with economic revitalization of inner cities will result in an increased number of churches in dense urban cores.

But oldline Protestant denominations will lose at least another 300,000 members. The seven historically liberal Protestant churches continue to shrink steadily as demographics trend against them, with congregations continuing to quit the Presbyterian Church (USA) as it moves towards same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches (NCC) will come precariously close to collapse. Following a third major reorganization since 1999, the NCC has dropped from more than 120 staff and a budget of $9.89 million down to six staff and a budget of $1.4 million. A politically polarizing new general secretary may also threaten the ability of the ecumenical council to continue on.

African United Methodists react to UMC same-sex unions. Liberal clergy insistence on defying United Methodist teaching against same-sex marriages could provoke confrontations with traditionalist leaders from the church's fastest-growing areas overseas, with 40 percent of United Methodism now in Africa.

Christians continue to increase in Israel while decreasing everywhere else in the Mideast. Escalating violence and emigration from Syria and Egypt will drag down the Christian population there, in contrast to a modestly increasing Christian population in Israel.

But anti-Israel sentiments will surface in the evangelical world, centered especially on evangelical college campuses.

Most evangelicals will remain against or ambivalent about mass legalization of illegal immigrants. Despite vocal support from some evangelical officials, polling indicates most of their flock will remain unengaged on immigration changes.

A spokesperson for a liberal denomination will endorse marijuana legalization. With two states legalizing recreational marijuana use and several others considering it, the issue will spread.

Religious left groups will target denominations that ordain only male pastors. Not content with women's ordination in some churches, the religious left will target the Southern Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church in America and others—presumably including Roman Catholicism—for a perceived injustice.

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