How We Connect: The Decline of Denominations and the Rise of Size

links 200cWe live in an increasingly post-denominational world. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it’s just the way things are now.

Years ago, virtually every friend I had in ministry was within my own denomination. Every program my church used came from our denominational headquarters. The idea of ministering in any significant way outside the denominational structure… well, it wasn’t forbidden or scary – it just didn’t occur to me.

Not any more. Now my denominational connections are just one factor among many that determine my pastoral friendships, my church’s programs and my ministry opportunities.

I haven’t rejected my denomination. They haven’t rejected me. It just doesn’t factor into my, or my church’s decision-making the way it used to.

Something else has taken over as a stronger factor in how my church makes its decisions, now.

The size of my church.

And I’m not alone in this.

 

Every Church Has a Size Culture

In The Grasshopper Myth, I quoted Lyle Schaller, who said “Churches have more in common by size than by their denomination, tradition, location, age, or any other single isolatable factor.” Since then, I’ve come across a very good article by Dr. Timothy Keller, entitled “Leadership and Church Size: How Strategy Changes with Growth”. In his lengthy piece, Keller makes a similar argument.

According to Keller, every church is hugely influenced by its “size culture”. He writes that “The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size.”

I have found this to be profoundly true. While I have ministry friends from churches of all sizes and denominations, when it comes to “talking shop”, the greater the difference in church size, the less we’re able to find common ground, unless I have a prior relationship with them. But when church sizes are similar, we tend to connect rather quickly, and denominational differences disappear.

Again, I don’t know if that’s good or bad, it’s just the way things are now. But I do think it presents us with some wonderful new opportunities.

 

From Denominationalism to Post-Denominationalism

The old ways of connecting and separating along denominational lines are fading away. Many denominations are even rebranding themselves in response to this. They’re seeing the need to be less top-down and more across-the-board. Some are adapting new names for their programs and new titles for their denominational officials, based on these changes.

But this is about a lot more than slapping new names on old systems. (After all, do Walmart workers feel less like “employees” because they’re called “associates”?) This affects the way we minister, how we connect and where our loyalties lie.

In my grandparents’ day, if you drove a Ford, you were a “Ford man”. You wouldn’t drive anything else, and you looked with suspicion at the neighbor who bought a Chrysler. There are stories of men coming to blows over such distinctions. And in denominations, the ties were even stronger. It wasn’t unusual to hear the members of one Christian denomination referring to members of another denomination as “those poor, lost people”, even if their theology was all but indistinguishable to anyone else.

Today, people drive what they like and change brand-names to suit what works for them. The same goes for churches. It’s not that theology doesn’t matter. It does, and it should. But most of us have accepted the idea that no one will go to hell for walking into the wrong building on Sunday morning. We do what works.

While that change is almost universally good, the end of a denominational culture also means we have to discover new ways of finding common ground. Let’s hope we can do it without demonizing “the other” this time.

As a result, “church size culture” has almost invisibly become a greater connector of ministers and ministries than our denominations. And the same goes for people who attend megachurches and Small Churches. They each have very different expectations about what a “good” church experience looks like.

 

What Does This Mean?

Being a relatively new phenomenon, “church size culture” is something we need to be aware of, observe carefully, adapt to wisely but, like reacting to a wild bear in the woods… Don’t. Make. Any. Sudden. Movements.

Anyone who tells you they have the answers about what to do next with this new phenomenon of “church size culture” is likely being either reactionary or manipulative. No one knows how this will all shake out yet.

Denominations are trying to figure out how to respond to this new reality. Pastors are finding better ways to connect. Many independent churches are discovering that there are both joys and challenges in having no denominational authority or accountability.

One of the reasons for NewSmallChurch.com is to provide a place where Small Church pastors – who have more in common than we may have realized – can gather, share, connect and help each other across denominational lines.

But Small Churches also need to find our place in the larger body of the church. We need to see the distinctions between large and small, not as reason to separate, but to appreciate what gifts each has to offer. It’s about how big and small can work together. Let’s be sure the eye doesn’t ignore the hand this time.

 

A New Chance at a Fresh Start

Our communities no longer care what denominational tag is on our church sign. This is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to overcome old barriers and stereotypes. To work together. To put Jesus first.

Let’s reach across denominational lines, church sizes and other petty differences to connect with each other and reach our communities with the love of Jesus. Maybe this time, we can lead by example.

 

So what do you think? Have you found you have more in common with people whose church is of a similar size? How has this affected the way you minister?

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(Chain Link photo from StockMonkeys.com • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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3 thoughts on “How We Connect: The Decline of Denominations and the Rise of Size”

  1. Very well said my friend!
    I too have felt the shift, its part of the reason we went non-denom when the fellowship got planted in ’04.

    I do find in going much slower though in rural areas, as do most things.
    Not at an Amish pace (horse and buggy) but more like a Model -T.

    And there are (unfortunately) going to be those, no matter what the setting – urban, rural, metropolis – that just don’t want to get on board. Some out of ignorant fear of the “one-church” thinking.

    But I have found that the principle of two or three that Jesus taught, tends to prevail in this case as well as any.
    If God is working to get differing churches and fellowships to work together for the betterment of HIS Kingdom, then its going to happen.

  2. Very well said my friend!
    I too have felt the shift, its part of the reason we went non-denom when the fellowship got planted in ’04.

    I do find in going much slower though in rural areas, as do most things.
    Not at an Amish pace (horse and buggy) but more like a Model -T.

    And there are (unfortunately) going to be those, no matter what the setting – urban, rural, metropolis – that just don’t want to get on board. Some out of ignorant fear of the “one-church” thinking.

    But I have found that the principle of two or three that Jesus taught, tends to prevail in this case as well as any.
    If God is working to get differing churches and fellowships to work together for the betterment of HIS Kingdom, then its going to happen.

    1. This is one of the reasons I’m so excited about the Kern County Ministers’ Mini-Conference you’ve invited me to on May 17. No denominational barriers, just church leaders getting together to learn and support each other..

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