Bigger Things to Worry About Than Death of Denominations

Derek Penwell explores community and ministry in a post-denominational world at the blog D-mergent:

We live in the most mobile, and often the most disconnected culture in the history of the world. Young people are told from an early age that success in life requires a college education. After graduating college, often with a mountain of student loan debt, young people find themselves in the awkward position of having to find jobs less according to vocational and personal compatibility or prospects for advancement or even for geographic proximity to family and friends than for whether a job will pay them enough to pay back the back.

Consequently, with few exceptions, we’ve created a society that requires the possibility of mobility as the price of admission. Follow the money.

This mobility has resulted in paradox of young adults who aspire to independence, yet eagerly desire to maintain interpersonal relationships. This paradox places a new set of demands on the church.

Congregations must recognize that young adults aren’t looking to “join.” They appear less interested in community as a tool to accomplish some other purpose than in community as a place to make and keep friends. This raises challenges for congregations in what appears to be a post-denominational world seeking to provide a safe place where friendships can be made and community can develop among young adults.

On its face, this attachment to friendship for its own sake can cause alarm in older generations in the church who’ve traditionally understood church to work in almost the exact opposite way. In the past denominations helped provide the kind of social stability I’ve been describing, a world in which friendships endured because people tended to stay in the same places.

Denominational loyalty was a hallmark of this social stability. After becoming a part of a denomination, either through birth, conversion, or transfer of membership, people tended to identify with that denomination indefinitely. There was a time when it was common to hear someone self-describe as a “fourth generation Methodist,” for example. Today, denominational loyalty seems a quaint bit of nostalgia, like the gilded memories of neighborhood soda fountains and day baseball.

Part of the reason we are in a post-denominational world, and part of the challenge facing mainline denominations going forward is wrapped up in that discussion. It’s going to be harder and harder to make that argument to people who have no broader sense of the scope and breadth of denominational history or it current vision for mission. As ______ and _______ grow older and become less involved in the life of the congregation, the people capable of making the argument for maintaining the institution will be fewer and fewer.

Couple that with emerging generations that have very little denominational loyalty and very little in the way of an impulse to join institutions, and you have a recipe for increasing difficulty for denominational survival—if what you mean by survival has to do with maintaining structures, with their administrative and personnel costs.


In a mobile society I believe the church needs to begin to think first about how to bring people together, to cultivate relationships that are difficult to form as people grow older. That is not to say that churches need to leave behind their commitment to worshiping God or to seeking justice or to educating and forming the faithful. It is to say that those things can be the product of communities called to together by God, rather than places that seek to form communities for the purpose of accomplishing those things.

Denominations are dying – what will be next? Read more here.

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