Unplugging from the Matrix, part 6

This is part 6 of a series of reflections about the journey of starting a church and leaving established, organizational, denominational religion. It’s a lot like unplugging from the matrix. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

As far as I can tell, this will be the last post in this series about leaving denominational expressions of church. It has been a good way for me to process some of the things I’ve been feeling as we started a new church that was not connected to a denomination or launched out of an established church. But the Church, however, is always connected whether we realize it or not. For there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). And we all claim the same head – the Lord Jesus Christ.

This series of posts has also been a way for me to catalog quotes from others that confirmed my thinking. Here are a few more that have turned up in recent days.

From Bill Easum:

If we were to rely more on the Holy Spirit than on modern, democratic models, denominational structures would be replaced by church-to-church structures based on what is needed to transform each churches community.

Sadly, I think most denominations started out with this intention in mind. And when they operate effectively, they can achieve this church-to-church, Spirit-infused community transformation. But other times bureaucracy gets in the way.

So what can denoms do to get unstuck? Tony Morgan offers some ideas:

The United Methodist Church has lost about three million members since 1970. The number of people attending at least one Church of England service each month is down by 50% since 1968. Today less than three percent of the population attends services. Denominations are stuck.

I get to work with and communicate with church leaders across the country every day. Here’s what I know to be true — churches are stuck as well. Sometimes they don’t know they’re stuck. But, the symptoms are fairly obvious. Here are some symptoms to identify whether or not your church is stuck. Some of them are more obvious than others:

  • The church has stopped growing.
  • The congregation is aging.
  • Giving has declined.
  • Spiritual growth has stalled. People are just “consuming” ministry.
  • People aren’t serving.
  • People have stopped reaching their neighbors.
  • The church isn’t developing leaders.
  • Communications are confusing and lack purpose.

One of the main reasons I believe churches are stuck is because their systems and strategies are broken. Churches continue to use their same systems, but hope and pray for different results. The only way to get different results is to engage different systems. But, unfortunately, many churches (and denominations) would rather stay stuck and eventually die rather than making changes that might make people (including leaders) feel uncomfortable.

Some people getting uncomfortable might be the answer. Maybe the answer also lies in seeing denominations with different eyes. I’ll admit that this diagram from Steve Collins hurts my brain a little bit. It’s called “Scalability: What are denominations in emergence?”

(HT: Jonny Baker)

Collins adds:

A denomination in emergence:

  • does not have a fixed or necessary hierarchy
  • does not have a large difference between the top and bottom of any hierarchy that may appear
  • does not locate authority in predetermined or fixed positions
  • does not have clear or static boundaries
  • does not have a clear or static centre
  • has constantly varying degrees of membership
  • may dissolve, and reform later somewhere else

Is there hope and a future for denominations? Maybe. There are obviously a lot of positive things they accomplish – things for God’s Kingdom and for the benefit of those suffering. But long term viability may require seeing things with new eyes and pruning back some of the branches that don’t belong. Which is what the Church should always be doing.

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