Do Denominations Matter?

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In 2010 I wrote a piece for Christianity Today where I argued, “yes.” After laying out all of good, bad, and ugly I concluded: Given all that, call me a cautious believer in the idea that we can do more for the kingdom of God by doing it together with people of common conviction–which usually […]

In 2010 I wrote a piece for Christianity Today where I argued, “yes.” After laying out all of good, bad, and ugly I concluded:

Given all that, call me a cautious believer in the idea that we can do more for the kingdom of God by doing it together with people of common conviction–which usually means in a denomination–than by doing it alone.

The idea of “going it alone” is embedded in the American consciousness. The cowboy/ frontier/entrepreneur spirit is– for better of for worse– in our DNA. But history demonstrates (especially my denomination, which has roots in the issue of cooperating for missions) that we can make a bigger impact together than we can apart. If for no other reason, pretty much all churches will eventually “associate” with other churches for the purpose of pooling resources to reach the nations. Eventually their vision will outgrow their resources. That’s why God gave us the Church.

“Associating” and “cooperating” for a common goal is easier said than done. Cooperation requires common conviction, unity, and grace.

You can read the entire article to see how I feel, but do denominations matter to anyone else? According to a new study by LifeWay Research, the answer appears to be, “Yes, at least for now.”

A majority of pastors with denominational affiliation believe it is vital to be part of a denomination, but a majority also believe that the importance of identifying with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.

The Christian Post carried our release here. Here is a sample:

In response to the statement, “Personally, I consider it vital for me to be part of a denomination,” three-quarters of pastors (76 percent) agree. That includes 57 percent who strongly agree and 19 percent who somewhat agree. Ten percent somewhat disagree and 14 percent strongly disagree while 1 percent don’t know.

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Similarly, three-quarters (77 percent) of pastors agree with the statement, “Our congregation considers it vital for our congregation to be part of a denomination.” Fifty percent strongly agree, 27 percent somewhat agree, 9 percent somewhat disagree and 14 percent strongly disagree. Two percent don’t know.

Despite the convictions of identity, however, nearly two-thirds of pastors (62 percent) believe the importance of identifying with a denomination will decline over the next decade.

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Survey participants were asked, “I believe that the importance of being identified with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.” Twenty-eight percent of pastors strongly agree and 34 percent somewhat agree. Fifteen percent somewhat disagree, and 18 percent strongly disagree. Five percent don’t know.

Many talk about the decline of denominations today, prompting us to ask pastors of churches that belong to Protestant denominations if they consider their affiliation vital. Many will be surprised at how strong their response was in favor of denominational connection, but also intrigued that their outlook on the future is much less optimistic.

A pastor’s age, denomination, and education all play into how one perceives the value of their affiliation. Our press release tells the story:

The survey results reveal that pastors who consider themselves mainline are more likely than evangelicals to agree (strongly or somewhat) that their personal membership in a denomination is important. While 85 percent of mainline pastors agree that it is vital to be part of a denomination, only 74 percent of evangelicals agree.

Education and age also affect pastors’ opinions of denominations. Those with at least a master’s degree (62 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their personal denominational identification is vital than pastors with a bachelor’s degree (41 percent) or some college (48 percent).

Pastors ages 65 and older are more likely to strongly agree (71 percent) that their personal denominational identification is vital than those ages 55-64 (58 percent), 45-54 (55 percent) and 18-44 (48 percent).

The same groups — mainline versus evangelical, education and age — have differences in responses from pastors regarding whether their congregations consider identifying with a denomination to be important:

Those who consider themselves mainline (85 percent) are more likely than evangelicals (77 percent) to agree (strongly or somewhat) that their congregation considers it vital to be part of a denomination.

Pastors with at least a master’s degree (53 percent) and those with some college (45 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their congregation considers denominational membership vital than pastors with a bachelor’s degree (35 percent).

Although age does not affect total agreement, pastors 65 and older (62 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their church considers denominational affiliation vital than pastors ages 55-64 (48 percent), 45-54 (49 percent) or 18-44 (45 percent).

Pastors of larger churches are most likely to agree (strongly or somewhat) that the importance of denominations will diminish over the next decade. Seventy-two percent of those with churches averaging 250 or more in worship agree, compared with 62 percent of those averaging 50-99 and 53 percent of those averaging fewer than 50.

Pastors with less than a bachelor’s degree (28 percent) are more likely to strongly disagree than pastors with at least a master’s degree (14 percent) that the importance of identifying with a denomination will diminish over the next decade.

Although the majority of all age groups agree that identifying with a denomination will decrease in importance, pastors 65 and older are the most likely age bracket to strongly disagree. While 27 percent 65 and older strongly disagree, only 16 percent ages 55-64, 15 percent 45-54 and 16 percent 18-44 strongly disagree.

Ironically, the future value of most denominations depends at least in part on the very pastors who predict their decline in influence. The group most likely to predict denominational decline is pastors of larger churches, which is probably not surprising to most observers. Yet, it does point to the future challenge for denominational leaders.

Do you think denominations matter? I would love to know what you think in the comments section. Do not make the comments specific to one denomination without some explanation, etc.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at http://www.edstetzer.com/

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