As the church is the primary builder of social networks, the decrease in social capital is both a cause and a result of the decline of church participation in America.

Systemic Problem #4: Stranger Evangelism

HEADS: Robert Putnam’s research indicates that American networks of engagement are breaking down and that this loss of “social capital” is the primary cause of many serious social problems.[1] As the church is the primary builder of social networks, the decrease in social capital is both a cause and a result of the decline of church participation in America.[2] Relationships that build community bonds between neighbors are essential to disciple making.

            What are the causes for decline in social capital according to Putnam’s research? Factors which probably contribute little to the decline in social capital include divorce, people living together or alone, the decline of the traditional American family, racial issues, big government, the welfare state, two career families and working women.[3]

            Factors which contribute significantly to the decline in social capital include slum clearance which destroys neighborhood relationships, the shift from local businesses replaced by regional giants where people shop as strangers, and the involvement of the power elite in corporate politics rather than community politics. Major factors in the decline include pressures of time and money, especially for two career families (10%), suburbanization, commuting and urban sprawl (10%), television and electronic entertainment (25%), and generational change, where lack of community involvement seems normal (over 50%).[4]





[1] The quote is a selection from David O. Kueker’s Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry project submitted in September, 2007, entitled Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization For the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
It is shared here in recognition of its 12th Anniversary along with comments to update and provide perspective on the material. The original project was a Training Manual/Study Guide of three Seminars supported by three chapters of research and an Introduction. The material is available for download at In 2009 it was provided for purchase as a softcover book entitled Designing Discipleship Systems: Christian Disciple Making For Any Size Church, Any Theology through

[2][3] [4][5] [6][7] [8]

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

[1]Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000). Putnam’s work is online at The Saguaro Seminar, Civic Engagement in America, ( accessed June 15, 2007). For another description of the decline of social capital in neighborhoods, see Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), 82-107.

[2]Putnam, Bowling Alone, 65-79, 391-392, 408-410.Cf. Dale Miller, 2005 Report of the Dean of the Cabinet, view&id=21&Itemid=1(accessed May 16, 2007).

[3]Putnam, Bowling Alone, 277-283, 201-203. By focusing on these factors, systems successfully avoid change which would result in real improvements in social capital.

[4]Putnam, Bowling Alone, 283-284. Social capital is more than community voluntarism where strangers temporarily join together for a task. Bowling teams over time develop covenant bonds of mutual obligation that would allow one to borrow $100 or a car for the weekend. Cf. Nancy T. Ammerman, “Organized Religion in a Voluntaristic Society,” Sociology of Religion 58, no. 3, 1997, 203-215, under (accessed May 16, 2007). Peter Drucker points out that people historically come to cities for the freedom of anonymity over the obligations of community; Peter F. Drucker, Managing in the Next Society (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), 225-232.

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