Yesterday I read Thom Rainer’s post on “Eight Reasons People are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-denominational Churches.” Here are the eight reasons from his informal Twitter Poll.
- Denominational churches have a negative reputation. Some respondents used the phrase “negative brand” to communicate this reason.
- Denominations are known more for what they are against than what they are for.
- There is too much infighting and politics in denominations.
- The denominational churches are too liberal. From what I can tell from these respondents, they are current and former members of mainline churches.
- There is a general waning of institutional loyalty in institutions such as denominations.
- Denominations have inefficient systems and organizations. They are too bureaucratic.
- Some of the respondents could see no perceived benefit to belonging to denominations.
- Denominations are not good stewards of their financial resources.
I have let these points stir around in my mind for a day now. I think can see what these respondents are wanting. For those of
you who are members of the churches of Christ, you may say, great we are not a denomination! True, we do not have a denominational headquarters. Yes, each congregation is independent and self-governed by an eldership made up of men from the congregation. Churches of Christ are autonomous. We are undenominational. Yet, outside of our own circle, most of the religious world and most of our neighbors do not understand our position. When the community sees our sign that says _____________ Church of Christ – they see “Church of Christ” as a denominational title. (NOTE: I am not for changing the name on our buildings to a non-descript or non-biblical name. This is simply and observation.) We as members of the churches of Christ need to do better in helping others understand the nature of RESTORATION. f we are truly about restoring the Church that Christ established and the Apostles grew in the New Testament, we must let people know. We need to let the community know we are trying as individual congregations to be local cells (assemblies, churches, groups, fellowships, etc.) of people who are trying to follow Christ’s teachings as best we can. (There may be more on this in a future post.)
Back to these eight reasons Thom Rainer lists. Allow me to tackle them one at a time as I see how they apply to the churches of Christ.
- Negative Reputation. This negative label can apply to us more than I want to admit. Many see us as depressed people. Many see us focused on what we do right that others do wrong. They see us as taking from people and the community and not giving and serving the community. What can we do? Change! Change our reputation by becoming light in a dark world. Change our reputation by being a positive influence in the community. Learn the power of service!
- Known More for What We are Against. This one hurts. Most people know we are against instrumental music in worship. They know we are against calling the preacher a “Pastor” or “Reverend.” They know we are against alcohol sales, state lotteries, sexual immorality, and liberal politicians. Most know we are against many current religious trends. Some of these stands are important, but do people know what we are for? Do they know we want desperately to see those enslaved to sin set free by the blood of Christ? Do they know the love we have for God and for all of His creation? If we really feel this way, it is time we put our actions where our heart is.
- Infighting and Politics. When we argue or worse split over personal preferences and expedients we are guilty as charged. When I get my feelings hurt, I need to ask and seriously consider if I am upset over a truly doctrinal matter of salvation importance or did I just not get my way? If the later, I need to re-evaluate my own spiritual maturity. If the former, I need to go through the proper methodologies laid out in scripture to help the church grow together in fear of the Lord and not politicize the issue by gossip and forming opposition parties.
- Too Liberal: I think that this accusation has to do with changes in worship practices more than other issues. We as individual churches can try to be like the denominations (nations) around us and seeing their apparent growth try to bring in their liberal worship practices into our congregation. I think Thom Rainer may have stumbled upon a trend of people who are reading the Bible and wanting to find “a church” that is “biblical.” At Central we have recently had a number of people come to us from different churches and groups who were looking for a Bible based church and Bible based teaching. These have said of their former churches, they are teaching motivational messages and giving political speeches not preaching and teaching from the Bible. I think churches of Christ who are trying to restore New Testament Christianity have an inroad to people searching for Truth. Be biblically conservative in your teaching, preaching, and practice. But do not confuse conservative with negative.
- Waning of Institutional Loyalty: If we promote ourselves as an established brand, we will suffer the loss of those who lack loyalty. If, however, we promote Christ above all and loyalty to Him first while modeling that devotion we will be pointing people to their only hope as we should be doing.
- Bureaucracy: Without the formal structure of a denominational headquarters or regional council, we should not have this as an issue. Yet, when one congregation publicly criticizes another we communicate a bureaucratic mentality and a negative mindset that will have the potential to drive people away.
- Lack of Benefit to Belong: We live in a “me” oriented society. Americans as a whole are consumers and approach church with an inward focus, “What is in it for me?” We need to communicate what membership in Christ offers without neglecting its cost. The cost is simple – we give our life wholly to the One who died for our sins. The return is immeasurable. We gain a loving eternal family. We gain opportunities to serve beyond ourselves. We gain an eternal existence with Christ. We receive so much more than we give.
- Poor Financial Stewards: Congregational leaders need to be open with the group’s finances. There needs to be regular accountability measures in place so that members can know where their contributions are going. In today’s religious environment, Christians want to see the church reaching outward and not inward. Budgets and expense reports show the focus of the congregation and to many an inward focus is poor stewardship (management) of the Lord’s money.
Disclaimer or caveat: These are simply my reflections and observations based on these eight reasons people are leaving denominations and how I can apply them specifically to churches of Christ and more specifically to Central where I serve as minister. I invite and welcome your thoughts.