Five Steps to Denominational Renewal - Part 2


So here is the proposal from an outsider alluded to in Five Steps for Denominational Renewal - Part 1. (Those familiar with the work of Will Mancini will recognize his “Vision Frame” in the background).

Since identity shapes behavior, the first step towards denominational renewal is for the denomination to embrace and affirm its true identity. This may come as a surprise to some, but a denomination is not a church. It is not the bride of Christ or the temple of the Holy Spirit or the recipient of the special grace promised to the church. It is, rather, an association of congregations. It is a collective of like-minded congregations who voluntarily support a shared mission, set of shared values, and strategic initiatives. Ironically, the theological confessions of most denominations list the marks of the true church or congregation and, by their own definitions these same denominations are not the church. Yet, many identify themselves as such and act accordingly.  

The second step towards denominational renewal is for Christians to embrace the biblical truth that the local church, not the denomination, is the hope of the world. The mission of God has been and is to seek and save the lost through the agency of local congregations, each of which is committed to making disciples. One need but look at the example of the Church of Antioch for confirmation. The local church, not the apostles in Jerusalem, fulfilled the Great Commission by sending Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries. Even in the modern era, the greatest movements in Christianity have been launched and sustained by local congregations and their congregants. In my own community, congregations, with their congregants, have planted new congregations. They have also established a college and a seminary, international mission agencies, Christian day-schools, adoption agencies, and food pantries. They have even commissioned and sent out ambassadors for Christ throughout the world.  

Since the local church is the hope of the world, the third step towards denominational renewal is for denominational officials to affirm but one mission or purpose: to support the ministry and mission of local congregations. That’s it, pure and simple. The ministry plan of a denomination is not to do more together; it is solely to support the ministry and mission of its local congregations. Denominational officials may counter by stating that they do support the ministry and mission of their local congregations. But my experience as a pastor in a denominational church, as well as those of many others, say otherwise. In fact, while serving as a pastor, I once conducted a simple sociological experiment. For one year I read and kept all my mail from the denomination and its agencies. I read each piece, then placed it a mail bin. By the end of the year the bin was overflowing! But in that collection I found but one letter from a local denominational official asking how he might help my congregation. Just one. The rest of the mail, including each piece from the denominational office, did nothing more than solicit support for the ministry and agencies of the denomination. Not once did the denominational office reach out and ask, “How can we support the ministry and mission of your congregation?” And on more than one occasion, denominational initiatives actually hindered our ministry on the local level.

If the local church is the hope of the world and the purpose of the denomination is to support the ministry and mission of its congregation, the fourth step is strategic. First, the ministry plan for a denomination must focus on listening to the churches and, in response, developing resources and providing assistance to meet real needs on the local level. Second, in order to listen well, denominational officials must prioritize building personal relationships with congregations – one by one. In so doing, they must resist the temptation to connect with congregations in any other fashion than by campus visits which include participation in corporate worship service and personal conversations with congregational leaders.

In order to complete this initiative, denominational officials will need to recruit and train a specialized group of regional representatives who are gifted with discernment and equipped to build relationships with local congregation in their ministry contexts.  Consequently, denominational officials will feel the need to decentralize and, most-likely, eliminate denominational agencies and offices that may be doing good work but don't directly serve the ministry and mission of local congregations. While painful, such hard decisions will be necessary to align the work of the denomination with its purpose.

The fifth step towards denominational renewal is even more challenging than the fourth: adopt benchmarks to determine effectiveness, the most obvious of which is annual professions of faith and baptisms within local congregations. That benchmark may seem daunting, but if the ministry and mission of the local church is to make disciples and the mission of the denomination is to support local congregations in that mission, one of the results of a healthy relationship between the denomination and its congregations will be more disciples, as evidenced in an increasing number of professions of faith and baptisms. Such a benchmark will surely encourage denominational officials to work hard at equipping their congregations to go into their communities, baptize believers into their congregations, and teach them the apostolic faith.

Five steps for denominational renewal. Together they call for unprecedented reform of ecclesiastical structures that have been around for decades. But the vision that prompts this call for reform is that of a collective of vibrant and healthy congregations embracing the mission of God to make disciples, supported and assisted by denominational structures which have but one purpose: to help their congregations fulfill that mission.

Will it work? In Part 3, I will highlight a couple examples. Until then, let's talk about it.

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Community Builder

Amen on the need for more listening and fewer surveys.



And another thing with regard to supplanting or subordinating the ministry of the local church, it isn't simply a matter of 'ministry-shares'. Because ministry shares only account for a fraction of actual ministry costs, the local church membership is hit-up for additional "private" donations from deep-pocketed individuals. Those generous souls cannot donate dollars twice. When they given to ministry causes over and above ministry shares receipts, those same funds are no lost to the ministry plans and strategies of the local church. On top of that we have our missionaries being told to circle back to the local church for direct funding as a means of staying in touch with their supporters. How's that for irony? The very system designed to ensure that no missionary would have to do such a thing every 2-3 years, now must do that very thing because the administrators have consumed the lion's share of the ministry shares. This scenario supplants ministry at the local level.

Perhaps it would be worth our while to engage in a forensic audit of just exactly how much money is donated to denominational causes over and above ministry shares. Why aren't the local deacons given a complete report of exactly how much money was received from their members via private, meaning development director solicitation. That would be an eye-opening that would induce a flood of questions and decisions. 

Community Builder

Aside from being a huge breach of donor confidentiality, I think this is a rabbit trail. Most donors give to several causes. Inside and outside of the church. And they could give more. Seriously, how often do we see a disaster and a generous outpouring? If your church has a strong vision and community, the dollars will follow.

Wendy your first paragraph does not follow at all. All Christians belong to congregations/churches. The ministry they engage in is attached to that entity. Our conversation is precisely about that fact. The issue is that now we have administrative offices functioning as if they were a local congregation. They are not. The plan I'm speaking of is the Ministry Plan discussed at Synod this year. The administrators are shopping that thing around. The other plans I'm speaking of are the local church's plan...the point of this discussion is that these 2 things are competing for the attention and financial support of the same people. This is not a sustainable model. 

With regard to a violation of confidentiality: It is not a breach of confidentiality to simply inform each local congregation that, in addition to the ministry shares sent in via the deacons, the denomination also received x amount of total funds from a given local names needed. The issue is this: such a document is warranted in terms of transparency. Also, such a document would inform the local church how many dollars are no longer available for local ministry. 

With respect to writing and marketing competitive plans for local churches, your comments in this regard illustrate the problem we're having of late. 

Community Builder

This is why online "conversations" are so difficult. Speaking past each other, not being able to clarify in real time.

- is ministry really attached to the congregation / church? What about being involved in local Christian ministries that aren't attached to a church?

- I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at when you talk about competition for resources. I don't think they are as scarce as you seem to think they are. Regardless, such a report does not exist. The denominational database is extremely outdated and such a report would be flawed at best. 

Community Builder

Wendy, I am helped by the distinction between the church gathered (the local church) and the church scattered (individuals living in obedience to Christ in their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and world). In this scenario, the scattered Christians are attached to the Church gathered because they serve while under the spiritual authority or covering of the local church.  At this very moment, for example, we blog as scattered Christians.  If, God forbid, our blog got nasty, our local congregations would/should hold us accountable for our behavior. Granted, such action doesn't happen as often as, perhaps, it should. 


per the end of Sam's post: In Part 3,... BOQ... In Part 3, I will highlight a couple examples. Until then, let's talk about it.  EOQ

well, Sam, it's being talked about =) looks like lots of sharpening discussion going on and grateful for the insights and input shared here, it's a topic worthy of time and energy...    so curious what post #3 will stir up =)


Hi Bev! Just an FYI that Part 3 has just been posted. 

Community Builder

Perhaps for the sake of clarity we should put two streams together. Both the "what is the purpose of a denomination (focusing on agencies, services and the like) and the Same sex marriage debate as seen in the recent decisions of Synod 2016 

The attempt to re-organize the Sy-board (Synodical board model turned half organism half modern business-style institution) usually gets all excited about the word "leadership" but when it comes to dealing with the hot social issue of the day, one that will likely split the church or at least irritate it with many leaders from both sides seeing it as an existential threat, on this issue Sy-board leadership must keep mum. We will not hear an ED, or agency director or anyone with an office at 2850 say much on this issue besides dutifully carry the water of Synod. Part of that is of course their job, but it illuminates the contradictions within the system. 

In a sense this model of Sy-board says "it doesn't really matter what you believe (on this issue) we want to be a service agency, responding to market forces and delivering 'solution' to help your local (consumer) church grow according to the metrics that are important to you."

In other words the "hope of the world" has little to do with the outcome of the LGBTQ culture war. 

I recommend considering Jerry Muller's book "The Mind and the Market". Voltaire in his hatred of "religious enthusiasm" was tremendously impressed with emerging capitalism. Here the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Quaker, the Calvinist, the Jew and the Muslim could find peace and unity together in the market place while Europe was tearing itself apart over sectarian conflicts. 

"Voltaire’s defense of the market in the Letters and later in his Philosophical Dictionary was political rather than economic. Market activity was valued not because it made society wealthier, but because the pursuit of economic self-interest was less dangerous than the pursuit of other goals, above all religious zealotry."

Muller, Jerry Z.. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought (p. 23). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

The irony here is that one side says "God won't bless a church that sanctions sin" while the other says "Unless the church gets with the times by calling traditional Christian sexual ethics bigotry people won't give it a second look" while in a sense the church management people come in with Voltaire and say "it doesn't matter what you believe, with better services and resources you will grow..."

Are we all living in the same world? Yet the last thing we'll do is put these conversations together even though they do reside in the same world in every Synod, Classis and local church. 

Will "benchmarks" be theology blind? 

This gets into both Lambert's point and Bill Harris' point.