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Musings: Is it the death of denominations?

Posted by Mark L. Vincent on May 13, 2011 3:41:00 PM

Shall we declare the death of denominations?

Shall we send out a message that a memorial service will be held and where memorial gifts might be sent?

  • Denominations can no longer justify their existence based on connection to European Protestant expressions and specific ethnicity.

  • Church members and congregations no longer contribute to denominations at a level that keeps them solvent, relevant and growth oriented.

  • The ability of denominational leaders to inspire and rally the faithful is severely diminished.

  • Denominations no longer provide an efficient means to develop resources for congregational leaders, to strengthen ministry skill or to carry out mission.

  • Denominations no longer provide the best avenues for connecting and networking, especially for newer and younger leaders.

  • Moral authority and ability to arbitrate a confessional identity is deeply compromised.

  • Denominations hold little sway over their related institutions.

  • Denominations can no longer maintain that they occupy the space of “helping us do better together than what we could do alone.”

The sole remaining (and still nearly exclusive) territory of denominational life–usually best carried out at a regional level instead of via a national office–is the training, certification of and ongoing resourcing of leaders so that they can be considered for ministry positions. In some settings denominations remain best suited to provide interventions where there is conflict and interim ministers where there is transition. But even this is finding its way to outsourcing among providers who do this work repeatedly, expertly and efficiently.

David Schmidt predicted this in the mid 1990′s in a study funded by Lilly and the then Christian Stewardship Association. In the book that resulted, Choosing to Live, he provides suggestions for how denominations might retool to occupy this space no other entity effectively can.

I can point to perhaps one denomination that is limping in the direction of survival and relevance. I know of a middle judicatory or two that are making valiant attempts. Everyone else seems to be dying death by a thousand bites or suffering fatal seizures.  It is death either way.

Why do so many of us who lead the church shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes and consider it a victory to move from ugliness to mediocrity, or at best from mediocrity to mere adequacy on those rare occasions we even get that much done? I don’t want denominations to die but denominations must find a reason and a will to live.

-mark l vincent

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Topics: organizational development consulting, denominations, death of denominations, middle judicatories, Mark L. Vincent, Design Group International, Whorled Viewz, organizational design

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