20070310

denominations are dying - guess why?

i have been wondering as of late if many denominations know they are dying? do we truly think any denomination will live past the next ten years of the 21c? i mean, given the stats over the past years i wonder if denominations know they are dying? if we take into account all the "emerging/evolving" communities of faith who deny any denominational connection, and even many of the modern evangelical churches that do the same, are we saying that belonging to a denomination is a 'bad' thing, or a 'good' thing? or is it a 'thing' at all? i have been amazed at the lack of information people 'in power' and in 'leadership positions' have concerning the emerging/evolving. they are the ones who are feeding the "new coat" thought to the people - "just make your church hip and cool and they will come" seems to be the driving mantra of many in leadership of denominations, that is if they have ever heard of the emerging/evolving. i can share with you some of the personal stuff i have been dealing with from denominations at 247 - you see, we felt it would be cool to have a "larger accountability and covering" but the response we got is amazing.

over the past two years i personally approached the district leaders and bishops from the evangelical luthers, the pcusa, the ucc, the doc, the episcopal church, the united methodist church and even the american baptists - i know, a pretty diverse gathering, but hey we are emerging/evolving community of faith and we want to hear what all have to say - well, here is what has happened:

the "local" elca, or "evagelcial lutheran church of america was a very interesting experience. i met with the bishop for the area for about an hour, maybe more and he seemed excited about the possibilities and promised that others from his office would contact me on the follow-up. one month later, after hearing nothing, i called and no one, no one, remembered meeting with me - and i got to thinking, how many other shave head, earring wearing, tattooed, 6'2" 250lbs guys do they meet with for an hour talking about the emerging church? needless to say, as they looked on the calendar they found when i spoke with the bishop and they saw the notes that someone was suppose to call. i got a call, and i was told to "download forms and fill them out and send them in"- which is weird because in order to do that i also had to download a "special" lutheran program to read the forms [adobe does not work for the lutherans] - and none of it worked. i tried to call back and leave a message with the person who called, but no one knew who she was and i never heard another word from them - and they never returned my follow-up calls. so, we let it go.

the "local" pcusa office was the easiest one to deal with. when i called i was told by the receptionist that, "we already had some other 'ethnic' [spanish i believed] church from your area join us, so we would not be interested in anything you had to offer" - ok, given that i never expected a call back from anyone, but i left my name and number any way and i was right, no one ever called. i will be the first person to tell you that people "in power" tick me off, but people without authority tick me off more - because they simply decide for other what they will and will not hear, never knowing the way things work. one reason this denomination may be dying is because receptionists get to answer more then just the phone.

the "local" american baptist church office never returned my phone calls - never, and i left four messages. so it seems silly to say but, we are not connecting with them either; and we let it go.

the "local" episcopal church was the most responsive, and also the most restrictive - for us to become a episcopal church i needed to go back to school for one more year - a seminary of their selection to study episcopal history and stuff [never mind the fact that i have a mdiv and start my dmin soon] - also, if we joined we could no longer use the music we have been using, we would have to pick our music from a pre-selected list approved by the church office; also, we would not be allowed to call ourselves "247" anymore - we would have to pick a saint name, or a latin name - we were thinking of 247 in latin - but that is a mute point now.

the " local" united methodist conference was the most legalistic of all the groups. they called me back and said, "if you get a copy of the discipline and read it and agree with it call us back and we can start talking - the book of discipline is over 500 pages and is a "legal" book or order. needless to say, that did not go far.

out of them all, the only denominations that expressed an interest in talking with us was the ucc and the disciples of christ. i find if rather ironic, no not ironic but rather interesting, that none of the people i spoke with had ever heard of the emerging/evolving conversation, and none had ever heard of anyone, or thing, connected with the conversation - none, they did not know our authors, conferences, gatherings, connections, sites, blogs [several had never even heard the word 'blog' before] or anything at all about the emerging/evolving conversation. one of the leaders, in one of the denominations told me that he was 'hip to the new lingo' and all the new things happening in the church. he told me he was 'on the cutting point' and he never heard of anything like the emerging/evolving conversation. he figured it is so new, he had not heard of it and he suggested waiting a few years for it to "catch on." i thanked him for his time and went on my way.

1 comment:

MartinK said...

Hi John, can't say I'm surprised though it is a sorry state of affairs. I worked for the last eight years as webmaster for a small denominational body and the only outsiders anyone in the leadership has heard of all made their reputation over ten years ago (Marcus Borg is this year's big speaker). I was "let go" back in September and as far as I can tell they've outsourced their website to a freelance contractor--that's how little they care about such things. To be honest I think we need to just do what we need to do. A lot of the work that the big denominational bureaucracies have been doing for the last hundred years can be done more effectively (and more openly, with more accountability and built-in evangelization) via the internet and ad-hoc gatherings.

I hear what you say about wanting more accountability and in theory I think you're spot on but in practice... We might need to be figuring out different ways to recognize, build up and spot-check each other's ministries.
Martin, QuakerRanter