4 Good Articles on the Future of Denominations

It seems like the relative demise of denominations is in the air. Several significant blog posts and articles have been published recently that move forward the argument I made a few weeks ago that denominations may be on the way out, though in somewhat different directions.

Before engaging those, though, I want to clarify one thing: I’m not in any sense anti-denominational. That is, I still think denominations do a lot of great work, particularly when it comes to organizing both the needs and strengths of their thousands of congregations. Which means that when it comes to everything from training leaders for the church to organizing massive relief projects, denominations can and do often play a salutary role.

So it’s not that I’m against denominations at all. Rather, it’s that I don’t get all that worked up by their apparent decline. Rather, I think the most faithful response to denominational decline is shared mission, giving up some of our denominational structures and bureaucracies in order to join our resources to any and all who want to share in the work of caring for God’s people and world and sharing God’s good news.

With that in mind, here are four relatively brief articles that are well worth your time.

First, Keith Anderson compares our recent struggles to the situation of Harry Potter after the death of their beloved teacher, Albus Dumbledore. Frankly, I would have read and shared this just because of my love for all things from the world of Harry Potter, but Keith’s very helpful point is that, like the young wizards of J.K. Rowling’s story, we also need to step up and offer leadership and vision in the wake of the passing of our denominational elder wizards.

Second, NY Times columnist Ross Douthat takes aim at liberal churches in particular in an op-ed piece from last Sunday. He charges that while liberal churches have been working so hard to save the earth and welcome the disenfranchised they’ve all but forgotten what they believe and lost the heart of their constituency. His is not a new argument, but he makes it with vigor. Missing, I think, is any attention to larger cultural forces at work that in the last decade are also affecting more conservative congregations as well.

In response to Douthat, Diane Butler Bass, author of the recent and recommended Christianity After Religion replies that Douthat misses some important larger trends, particularly regarding some counter-intuitive findings that liberal congregations are experiencing some significant spiritual renewal.

Fourth and finally, Christian Piatt puts the larger argument about denominations into interesting perspective by asking not whether Christian churches today should survive, but whether they should survive as they are today and wonders with us about what a future church might look like.

So consider this your weekend reading, just in case the heat is keeping you indoors or you want something to read while resting in the hammock. Have a great weekend.