Entry into this emerging, postmodern world is going to be tough on mainline denoms. If there was one negative thing that resulted from the reformation, it was the disagreement between groups that led to an increasingly splintered Christian landscape. The postmodern reformation has a chance to reverse that as churches pull toward a center of creed-based faith.
But the denoms won’t go down without a fight. They are painfully aware of the situation, however I’m not sure they have a solution. Presiding ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson recently told leaders, “it is time for the church to move forward and get over being “timid” about mission and ministry.” C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, recently tweeted“fact: every major denomination is aging and losing members including #Episcopal Church and Diocese of Texas” and “fact: institutional efforts to reverse downward trends & to capture religious imagination of young adults is limited.”
I don’t think any of the mainline denoms are doomed to the point of extinction. Someone will always be there to keep the ship afloat. But a look at the landscape of Europe, particularly England, can give a glimpse of the future in the US. The Church of England still exists, but it’s just a relic. More foot traffic is generated for being a museum than being a place of worship and spirituality.
It’s similar to the Blockbuster – Redbox/Netflix situation. Blockbuster is bankrupt. Redbox and Netflix are the competition. The are a new breed in the movie rental game: innovative, creative, simple, flexible, user-friendly, and adaptable. New expressions of church are the Redbox/Netflix to the denominations Blockbuster.
In my opinion, the opportunity for denominations lies not in their ability to rally around a set of beliefs, but instead in their ability to rally people based on the DNA of the gathered tribe. In other words, beyond doctrinal beliefs, what makes XYZ Denomination tick?
For the Catholic Church, they’re making pretty strong claims on how they’ve influenced the world over the centuries, but their message ends with the obvious ask of “come to this building on the weekend.” Excuse me Catholic Church, but all of the claims you just made came not from weekend worshippers but weekday workers. Yes, church services do have their place for instilling Scripture, learning and listening to the Spirit of God, and for the community of Christ-followers. I’m not suggesting we do away with them.
I am suggesting that we understand what really defines us. The DNA of a denomination or tribe of people is beyond beliefs, it also includes behaviors. These behaviors are the reason why people continue to assemble (or not assemble).
It’s a new day for denominations and it’s going to take more than ad campaigns and catchy slogans for them to survive and thrive. It’s going to take some serious soul searching for why and how they should exist.
I am a member of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) – a declining denomination. I believe that we are living in an increasingly post-denominational world. Since Vatican II the spectrum of Christianity has been lurching back to a center. And I agree with this CMS post – I did not find myself in the ELCA because I was attracted to their doctrinal beliefs. I find myself in the ELCA because I’m a disciple of Jesus that believes serving the world and seeking justice is more important than the business of delivering “get out of hell FREE” cards. I connect with the DNA and behaviors of the ELCA.