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29 Jul '14

The future of evangelical denominations. Which will thrive and which will not

Posted by T.J. Addington
Are denominations a thing of the past and destined to disappear? Certainly many of the main line denominations have been in decline for decades now and while they may have money they have fewer and fewer churches and congregants. Some are already relics and irrelevant although they don't seem to know it yet. Their decline has little to do with where denominations are but much to do with their theological drift and the long ago loss of the Scriptures as truth. Yes they are a thing of the past.

What about denominations in the evangelical world? It depends! Denominations that are primarily about structure, institution and authority are likely to become increasingly irrelevant in today's world where churches can choose their affiliation, if any. On the other hand denominations that are movements driven by vision and common purpose (broadly defined) will not dissappear. Movements grow while calcified structures die.

Here are the characteristics that I believe will define growing denominational movements.

  1. They are all about the proclamation of the Gospel and are rooted in the authority of Scripture.
  2. They have an ethos that encourage local churches to flourish and minister in their unique ways without control.
  3. They welcome innovation, new ways of reaching people and new forms rather than trying to fit people and congregations into a specific structures or philosophy.
  4. They guard the theological integrity of the movement through ordination - one of the few structures that do matter.
  5. They encourage movements within the movement which naturally occurs as visionary pastors become movement leaders and plant other congregations that look like them - or not.
  6. They value the Bride over the brand (denomination) and have Kingdom hearts that work with, bless and champion other evangelical churches and groups for the spread of the Gospel and reaching whole communities. They are non-territorial.
  7. They are vision driven rather than structure driven. Structures simply serve mission and vision. Structures in growing denominational movements will be kept to a minimum and only what is helpful to the movement.
  8. Their leaders are people with kingdom hearts whose sole purpose is to see the Gospel expand and local churches and their leaders reach their full ministry potential. They lead out of influence rather than authority 99% of the time.
  9. Denominational movement leaders are not the experts but are skilled in helping congregations and their leaders ask the right questions and can point people in the right direction when that is desired. 
  10. They are constantly guarding against the movement becoming about structure and institution. They guard the missional ethos.
What I am describing are movements, rather than what we typically think of when we hear the word denomination. There will always be movements. Old ones die and new ones emerge. Denominations that are movements rather than institutions are far more likely to thrive and survive in the coming decades.