Monday, July 26, 2010
Many national denominational organizations in North America are dying. The causes and signs of their demise are obvious, but few are choosing to make wise decisions to morph into 21st century denominations. Too many are choosing to recommit to old patterns or suicidal patterns of denominational life.Bullard then goes on to list things that the denominations are doing wrong. It is an interesting list, but if there is a theme, this is it:
The death of national denominations is not imminent; it is not coming in the next five to ten years. However, if current trends continue some national denominations could reach subsistence level within 25 years. The death of national denominational structures does not necessarily mean the death of the denomination itself or its regional or middle judicatory expressions. These latter expressions may thrive in some locations.
First, many national denominations are demanding loyalty rather than earning loyalty. Congregations who respond to the call for more loyalty tend not to be the growing, vital, and vibrant congregations, but rather are the plateaued, declining, and passive congregations. Dying denominations are successful in reinforcing the myth that congregations exist to serve the denomination.I think that is very fair - I have been most angry with my denominational structure when they simply failed to listen, respond, or reason - they just wanted to dictate. When we have attempted to get their attention by withholding our fees to them they have demanded the fees rather than asked one simple question, "Why?"
There is one point he makes that needs polishing though:
Second, many national denominations are professionalizing, formalizing, and centralizing their clergy education, credentialing, and support systems in an attempt to achieve a purer and more effective collection of clergy leaders. This approach certainly provides more control and creates more dependency among the clergy leaders, but is does not necessarily produce purer or more effective clergy leaders. It may also result in a lack of sufficient new clergy leaders, as persons called into clergy ministry seek out denominational families with a more open and flexible system.From my perspective, clerical accountability is one of the chief function of denomination. But accountability is different than control and the key question is accountability in what areas. The denomination, like most congregations, needs to concentrate on creating good people to be clergy, not just loyalty and education.
I think Bullard is right - the denominations are not going to explode, they are just sort of going to peter out, and we are never going to be able to put our finger on exactly the point at which they die. Sadly though, that is a designed process and the illness itself. If they confronted the issues, they could be healed.