I’ve predicted to myself that traditional denominations are on their way out. A few days ago I was given some proof that I am indeed right, as is usually the case. As of today, 6 to 12 million people attend house churches. As a house church pastor, I find that really interesting and pretty cool. On the other hand, just 1 percent of Americans call themselves Presbyterians, which makes their numbers around 3 1/2 million. In short, the Presbyterian churches are having their butts handed to them.
With few exceptions, it seems like the long standing denominations continue to be on the outs, while new forms of church are way in, and it got me thinking about a few things.
This Isn’t a Defeat or a Victory.
While the news interests me, and I’m happy that people are trying out house churches, it doesn’t make me pump my fist or shoot a gun in the air in victory because the Presbyterians are dying off. I’m not in competition with them. Sadly, a bunch of house churches make their outreach all about how traditional church bites, therefore you should try a church that bites on a much smaller scale. That’s the wrong angle, and it makes them really annoying one trick ponies. What it tells me, and should tell you is that there are so many possible churches to choose from, be they house churches or something else, for people who don’t think they fit in at church.
What Christians need to realize is that a closed down church building is not the worst thing in the world. Every good thing ends sometime. A closed church doesn’t mean defeat or failure. It just means that a good thing came to the end of its life cycle. Eventually, all of our sweet, amazing mega churches with their giant screens will be full of old blue hairs. The pastors will all have extremely white false teeth. And the teenagers will cringe whenver Steve Fee’s dusty old worship music is played way too loud, so we can hear it after we all go deaf from Steve Fee’s music being played way too loud.
Can Denominations Get a Makeover?
About twenty years ago, I think the Methodists tried to stop looking all stuffy and get a PR makeover. I think it was something about a “nicer, gentler Methodist church.” Or maybe that was the IRS. Maybe the IRS could help churches with their image problems. I think they changed the logo for a while too, because that old logo surely had to be their biggest problem. The new x-treme cross and flames and radical Jesus with flaming skateboard giving a thumbs up logo was short lived.
These days, the Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians don’t seem to have a whole lot of faces left to lift or things that can be made over. Their idea of being “relevant” seems to be electing gay pastors. Which is ironic, since the average member of those churches doesn’t support that move. In a time when they can least afford it, the denominations are making controversial political statements, and their people are leaving because of that. So…I guess they’re hoping to build churches full of gays, since there won’t be any straight Christians left in their churches soon.
Remember, There’s Nothing New Under the Sun.
I think it’s great and inspiring that the church continues to be reinvented. But before we go thinking that we have it all together, remember that people aren’t all that creative. We don’t come up with new ideas all that often. Something will replace denominations. Non-denominational churches eventually turn into denominations.
Here’s a hypothetical: You have an average Christian at a Methodist church, and she doesn’t really like the direction the central leadership is going. Does she have a say? Is the central leadership even accessible? Chances are, she doesn’t even know where to find the Methodist tribal council to voice her concerns, and even if she did, who is she to tell the church what it should be doing?
So she heads over to a new church where a thousand people attend, which she finds is one of about five or six “satellite campuses” run by a single “central” church in town. That’s a pretty revolutionary and fresh sounding way to run a church, and it looks nothing like her dusty old church with the badger at the pulpit. But has her situation changed? Has her access to church leadership become any easier? If her church is actually run by people at a different church, she finds herself again in a mini-denomination. Once an organization is that big, chances are she’s just a face in the crowd. I’m not saying it’s a rule. I’m saying that it’s a likely scenario that needs to be accounted for if churches are really going to try to be something “new.”
I don’t like bringing that up because obviously multi-site churches are popular, and you don’t make yourself popular by critiquing popular things. (Though calling a church a “campus” is something that personally grinds my gears like nothing else.) We just can’t be so bold to think that all our ideas are fresh or will work and be different just because we are the ones doing it this time. Let’s try to actually learn from the past and maybe not repeat mistakes this time.
What about you? Are you a part of a denominational or non-denominational church? Do you feel you have access to church leadership, or is it remote and far away? Are we doing anything new, or are we just repeating history?