Friday, February 09, 2007

It's a post-denominational world

LifeWay has released the results of research on denonimational loyalty among Protestant and evangelical church attenders. The study indicates that "one-third of all American Protestant churchgoers feel less than positive they will continue attending the same church in the near future. If they do switch, only about one out of four would only consider another church in the same denomination." Baptists, we are told, are fairly typicial in their responses to the survey questions.

This information is not surprising or, at least, it shouldn't be. Old line denominationalism is dead. That is different than saying that old denominations are dead, though, in some cases, that also is patently true. Those leading the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to think deeply about what this research indicates. It could, I think, help give some insight into some of the frustration that is arising in the not-always-very-successful-attempts at communicating across generational and cultural borders that are within the SBC.

The old ways of being Southern Baptist are fading fast. When I grew up SBC every church in the local association had RA's, GA's, WMU and knew who Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong were. Convention Press was safe and, I was led to believe, sufficient for supplementing my spiritual growth. As late as my college years I remember rebuffing a roomate who tried for a year to get me to read a book that had tremendously helped him spiritually. I took one look at the spine and, not seeing "CP" or "Broadman Press," tossed it back on his desk with a dismissive sectarianism and said, "I'm not interested." The fact that the front cover had Knowing God and identified the authory as J.I. Packer meant nothing to me (pause for a moment of unresolved embarrassment!). I doubt that many Southern Baptist college students would harbor those same thoughts today. The denominational world has changed.

Ultimately, this is a good thing, I believe. Blind loyalty is never wise. By getting over that when it comes to a denominational identity one is free to pursue unreserved loyalty to Jesus Christ and out of that loyalty identify with a local church and/or denomination. Such people make the very best kinds of church members and churches comprised of such members make the best kinds of denominations.

From my limited vantage point, what I see happening is this: Some who are currently leading the SBC have grown up in the old world (or else have bought into it while growing up in the new) and are having difficulty coming to terms with the new one. Consequently, they sometimes mistake loyalty to Christ as being "anti-denomination" when they hear those who, out of devotion to Christ, speak critically of the covention. I am not suggesting that the defenders of the denomination are not loyal to Christ. Love compels me to believe that they are. But, like my own attitude in my college dorm room, their devotion to Christ tends to be expressed denominationally, so much so, that they sometimes come across as "my denomination, right or wrong."

When post-denominationalists and denominationalists talk about the denomination, it is very easy to miscommunicate by talking right past each other. This research by LifeWay could become a useful tool to help facilitate better communication as we press forward to what I hope will be a very bright and Gospel-productive future for the SBC.

Here is a chart of some of the findings:

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willreformed said...

Not sure if you have studied the Emerging Church movement, but it is an answer that has been generated because of the reality that your post addresses. While we may decry that movements lack of propositional truth, it is an example of what is happening today in post-denominational era we live in.


Tom said...


I have not studied that movement much, but what I have ascertained is that many of the things they are protesting are things that ought to be protested. Your observation is insightful. Thanks.

Brian Hamrick said...

It's odd that during an era of the CP being the "Iraq issue" of SBC politics, the very future of the CP is somewhat bleak if this post-denominational trend continues.

Are we becoming post-denominational because we had already become generally post-doctrinal?

scripturesearcher said...


May our love and loyalty to the one and only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ always be supreme.

Your many readers would be very wise to read and prayerfully ponder
the current situation and its implications for the future.

If any dead denomination (corpse) cannot be successfully resurrected, reformed and revived ~
let's continue to worship and serve our ever living CHRIST!

willreformed said...

The Emerging Church movement is worth serious study IMO. Not an expert but it essentially states that we are living in a Postmodern world and our Christian worship and practice must adapt.

Part of the problem is defining what one means by those terms, but in general the Modern era was charactarized by reliance on authority, propositional truth, and tradition. The Postmodern era is characterized as no authority, relativism and no regard for tradtion. I've probably overly simplified it but that may capture the basics.

Denominationalism is part of modernism. It is a system of practice that evolved overtime based on a continuing reliance on legacy, traditon, and generational practice. So I think it is no surprise to see the article that you posted.

The challenge for all of us is to be faithful to what we need to be faithful to, ie the Bible is alone the authority for faith and practice, while enabling libety in those areas where the Bible is either silent or not clear.


TulsaJim said...

One problem with denominations is that they follow the typical lifecycle of any organization. They ultimately become more concerned with preservation than expansion. Even their efforts at expansion occur with preservation of the organizational structure at least being a minority part of the efforts' goals. This makes them inherently resistant to things new, and in today's fast-moving world, increasingly irrelevant. Relevance is partly determined by speed of response. Denominations do not set the industry standard in this area. The solution is to change how these entities resource their member churches. Until the local church becomes the orginator of the vision with the denomination as its resourcing servant denominational leaders will find themselves overseeing an ecclesiastical nursing home. Its clients will leave. It's just a matter of time.

David Rogers said...

"Ultimately, this is a good thing, I believe. Blind loyalty is never wise. By getting over that when it comes to a denominational identity one is free to pursue unreserved loyalty to Jesus Christ and out of that loyalty identify with a local church and/or denomination. Such people make the very best kinds of church members and churches comprised of such members make the best kinds of denominations."

Excellent observation. The SBC (and other denominations) should not be seen as an end in and of themselves, but rather a tool in the hands of God for the advance of His kingdom, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

SelahV said...

For anyone who might be interested: Scot McKnight, author of Jesus Creed and other books wrote an article for Christianity Today regarding the Emerging Church Movement. You can find the article at the following website: Very interesting read:


SelahV said...

Okay: for some reason when I copied and pasted the link for Scot McKnight's article in Christianity Today regarding the Emerging Church Movement, it left off some critical letters at the end of the link. Here it is again:

SelahV said...

Well fiddle dee dee! Looks like I'm gonna have to do it the old fashioned way and type it in.

Should this link appear without the following after /february/11.35.html, then you'll have to type it in to the address url. Every time I post it, it shows up. But when I hit the click on this site the last part disappears. Spooooooky.

jigawatt said...


Try using TinyURL. You can copy and paste in a URL and TinyURL will make it tiny.

For example, your link can be posted as:

SelahV said...

jigawatt: thanks for the information. Isn't it weird how that link disappeared when I posted it to the blog, but when it appeared posted TO the blog it reappeared as if what I was saying made no sense at all.

I'm glad it made sense to you. At least now people don't think I'm losing what little mind I have. selahV

Stephen Pruett said...

Brian Hamrick, You asked, "are we becoming post-denominational because we are already post-doctrinal?" I do not know the whole answer, but I don't think that's the major contributor to post-denominationalism. In fact, I think a major factor may be a desire to rely more completely on the sufficiency of scripture rather than deferring to traditions that essentially all denominations have developed over time.
Stephen Pruett

Winning Truth w/Tim Guthrie said...

I am curious,
Why print in your post the highlight of the negative when Baptist Press prints in the article related to the survey the positive which is better than I would have thought that 2/3 of the people will stay? Why not celebrate that it is better than we thought though not where we would like to see it?

Tom said...


Why do you assume that lack of denominational loyalty is a "negative?" My comments were not meant to convey that, nor do I believe it, at least not in the way that many seem to advocate it. The research was designed to investigate this very issue. As the article states:

"Although most people are not planning to switch, the study looked at denominational loyalty by asking what they would do if they had to change churches (for instance, if their current church shut its doors or if they moved to a different area).

Twenty-eight percent of all churchgoers said they would only consider attending a church of the exact same denomination they attend right now. Another 41 percent would strongly prefer this, but would have at least some openness to another denomination. Fourteen percent show some preference to their current denomination, but are open to others. Sixteen percent say the exact denomination of the church really doesn’t matter to them, while two percent frankly would prefer to switch denominations"

My point was primarily to show how this research sheds light on difficulty that denominationalists and post-denominationalists have in communicating their concerns for the SBC. This was not an attempt to be negative.

GUNNY said...

I don't mean this to sound like a name drop, but I had a conversation about this with Dr. John Piper last week at the Desiring God pastors conference.

I think history will look back on our era and see comraderie not along denominational lines, but along theological or practical lines, revealed by fellow attendees at conferences.

At the conference you had RC Sproul as the keynote speaker, sharing the stage with those outside his denomination.

At Together for the Gospel last year, you had a wide variety of denominations represented.

Conversely, the Willowcreek or Saddleback conferences will draw from various denominations. Those churches represented will have much more in common with other attendees than with many other churches in their denominational affiliation.

Piper noted how little he does with his denomination, but that 50 years ago denominational conferences were more inclined to have sweet fellowship and theological instruction/preaching, but not so much anymore.

Me thinks we have some gut checking to do denominationally, for I see many leaving our world to join up with the PCA or Sovereign Grace movment or somesuch. This is especially true if there's too much flak taken by a Calvinist in the SBC.

But, where are our boys going to go? If they graduate from seminary with a strong commitment to Reformed theology will they be welcomed in an existing church, more "mainstream" in its understanding of being Baptist?

To some degree, they can't win. They can't wear their theology on their sleeves without being criticized for always talking about Calvin and not Jesus. They can't just go in saying they're committed to the Bible, for they'll be accused of being deceptive to get a job.

Will they church plant? There's not a great deal of support among the general SBC world for such. We don't really have the financial means within the Founders to move the movement along. And, if we do, will we be accused of starting our own denomination?

I know Tom wasn't intending to go negative, but things can go negative for our SBC if they don't do some smart thinking.

Tom said...


Great observations. I think you are correct. Church planting must become an increasingly vital part of our thinking, without giving up ongoing commitment to see established churches led to greater spiritual health. There are some (many?) in the SBC who try to put guys committed to Reformed understandings of salvation into that no-win position you describe. A great challenge that we face, I think, in the light of this is to reject their false dichotomy, encourage men to speak honestly, humbly and wisely, and to trust the Lord to open and close doors.

What I am seeing more and more are churches and church leaders who, though not reformed, are fed up with and sickened by the shallow, unbiblical drivel that they have had set before them for years. They may not be asking for a Reformed ministry, but they are begging for a ministry based on God's Word that is not afraid to go against the tide, which of course, a ministry committed to the doctrines of grace will certainly do.

We must press on,

GUNNY said...

Amen, Tom.

I think this rising discontent is partyly in play for the popularity of IX Marks Ministries.

The Doctrines of Grace are imbedded in what they do, but they are seen as an organization to help make healthy churches.

I think that's what we all want, but the 'C' word just seems to be a bit of a lightning rod for many, unfortunately.

Amen, preach and teach the Word and let Him worry about getting you a paid gig.

Thanks, Tom.