The decline of mainstream Protestant denominations in America is one topic that has been discussed, written, and researched to death. There’s no use in debating or even explaining the statistics detailing this decline. The situation speaks for itself.
So what can we, who are young and remain in a denomination, do moving forward?
We can listen and adjust. What if there is a different posture we can assume on this whole topic?
Last week I was having lunch with a campus pastor of a very large multisite church; which has done an incredible job of using today’s popular culture to reach those who have little, if any, interest in church. His grandfather was a Baptist pastor. His parents were pastors in a different denomination. He studied at a very prestigious religious school—even researching denominational history specifically.
So what is his take on denominations? “Denominations are stupid.”
Serving within a denomination, there have been many, many days that I’ve shared his take on the dogmatic and doctrinal divisions of denominations. These differences are something for which people my age and younger have absolutely no room in our daily lives. If curmudgeons (curmudgeon is a posture and state of mind, not a number) want to sit around arguing about particulars of the faith, then have at it. The rest of us will spend that energy checking our Twitter timelines. Oops, I meant to write “we’ll spend that energy changing the world.”
The most interesting part of this situation is that we will never know the true answers to these arguments that divide us, nor do either side of the arguments actually change anything about our daily behavior.
So in one sense, yes, denominations are stupid. But maybe we don’t have to stop at stupid.
The other side of denominations is that many denominational churches are rich. The resources denominational churches possess can be reallocated to new ministries—to new ways of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for widows and orphans. These resources can be used to share the message of Jesus in new ways to reach a hurting world with our infinite hope.
Some denominations are real estate rich. They possess some of the most functional facilities in the most desirable locations. Some denominations have deep pockets in the pews and just because those who possess these pockets aren’t emptying them into the offering plates every week doesn’t mean the money is not there. I have seen pockets emptied when the leadership void is filled and the mission is prioritized.
It has also been my experience that the bureaucracy and committee models of being a local denominational church only impedes ministry if you let it. If you assert leadership and confidence, the political structure serves as accountability rather than interference. Then you get to redirect and reallocate the current resources toward the mission of the church—not the institution.
So some parts of denominations can be labeled as stupid. But rather than abandoning the ship entirely, perhaps there’s a more effective solution. Maybe the most well-resourced plan moving forward involves sticking it out within our stupid rich denominations.