10 Quick Thoughts On Denominationalism in 21st Century American Christianity

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This is the week of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting. On the blog this week, I am writing a mini-series on denominationalism. Today, I am addressing ten quick thoughts on this subject.


I was raised as a Southern Baptist. I used to be really into the SBC world, and still am to a lesser extent. I’m a former SBC state convention employee for both the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.


In my 5+ years pastoring Church of the Highlands, my interest in denominationalism has waned some. Portions of this may have to do with some wounds I’ve experienced. Others have to do with the rise of networks (which I’ll address later this week).


I have not given up on denominationalism, but am a bit bruised. Earlier this year, I was invited to serve on the SBC Young Leaders Council and happily accepted the offer. Our one meeting we’ve had was very encouraging. My hope increased as a result of this one gathering.


My thoughts on denominationalism in this post are not SBC-centric, but are meant to refer to denominationalism as a whole. Furthermore, this is specifically in reference to American denominationalism. I feel ill-prepared to discuss denominationalism on an international scale, but do a have a grasp on it through the lens of an American. Lastly, some of these are negative thoughts, and some of them are positive. I’ve tried to give a balanced approach to this.


  1. Less of a percentage of people are Christians. Therefore, less are involved in denominations.


I’m re-reading The Great Evangelical Recession by John Dickerson right now. His stats show that 7–9% of Americans are Christians.


  1. Churches not having denominational affiliations in the title of their names are impacting denominationalism.


Why do churches remove denominational titles from their names? They believe the title deters some people from attending.


  1. Denominations need to clarify their need for existence and more heavily emphasize missions.


Denominations used to exist for several things besides missions: building fellowship, developing curriculum, theological education, etc. Now, people can accomplish those things much more easily without a denomination. However, missions must be emphasized more than ever before.


  1. Denominations need to completely avoid dabbling in politics.


It is a lose-lose. American society has changed to become so politically divisive. Whenever a denomination starts dabbling in politics, it divides the denomination. Churches that want to support candidates in a legal manner can do so via Christian lobbying groups/firms.


  1. Denominations need to think more futuristically.


I’m not talking about eschatology. I’m talking about technology. This is more than just building an app. I’m talking about artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. Denominations should partner with churches and technologists to be on the front end of the technological revolution.


  1. Un-churched and de-churched people prefer churches that are either nondenominational or appear to be nondenominational.


This is an anecdotal observation, but I’ve met quite a few un-churched and de-churched people who have visited the church I pastor, Church of the Highlands, and said they were looking for a nondenominational church. Not once have I had someone come and say they really wanted a denominational church.


  1. Denominations need to be more open about how money is spent, and some are.


Where I pastor, if anyone has a financial question, including wanting to know someone’s salary or where money is going, they just ask someone on the finance team, and they’re given an answer. Call me naïve, but I just don’t understand why denominations don’t just lay all of their audits and spreadsheets out on a website for people to see.


More specific to the SBC, something I really like in this regard is that if you look at an SBC annual, there is a lot of detail regarding finances. Then, the trustees for the various entities hold their respective organization accountable in greater depth.


  1. Denominations should work together for big evangelistic efforts, and some are.


Whether it is a Greg Laurie Harvest Crusade or a Franklin Graham Crusade, denominations should partner together for huge harvest opportunities.


  1. Denominations don’t actively try to recruit other churches, and I have no idea why.


This is really strange to me. Why don’t they do this? It would increase their membership, revenue, influence, etc. It makes no sense why there aren’t complete departments dedicated to developing relationships with non-denominational churches to try to draw them into the denomination.


  1. Denominations need to proactively get younger, and many are doing a good job.


The council I mentioned earlier is a great example of this. Many Southern Baptist state conventions are doing a great job with this. I started some of this in Texas. Many others are hustling hard to reach out to younger pastors.


Do you have any additional thoughts on denominationalism? Let me know in the comment section below!

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