What is the future of denominations?

What is the future of denominations?


By Don Remick
Associate Conference Minister

A little over a year ago I wrote this article for the Northeast Area newsletter.  Having just returned from our UCC’s national Synod gathering.  I have been pondering some of Brian McLaren’s thoughts.  If my sense is correct, there is a shifting in our denomination, both locally and nationally towards the ideas that Brian McLaren offers.  It is a shift I welcome and celebrate. 

This Spring we had a conference in our region: Celebrating Call, Celebrating Challenge.  Its focus was ministry in this changing landscape.  This shift is emerging as ever more crucial if we are to not simply adapt, but springboard from the energy of this landscape change.  So I offer my understanding of these reflections again as food for thought. 
In the last year, I attended a conference at Duke University for new denominational regional leaders.  It was a wonderful gathering of folks from 7 different denominations exploring best practices for this ministry now and in the future.  
Of the many things I encountered during the week was a video presentation by Brian McLaren.  He was addressing the future of denominations, but his insights and observations speak to both our churches and our conferring together: 
Brian identified 7 fundamental functions of denominations:
  1. Embody Ethos:  Denominations hold, teach and model the unique beliefs, practices and identity of the tradition.
  2. Conserve Treasures:  Denominations are the keepers and preservers of the heritage, history and doctrine of the tradition.
  3. Support Relationships:  Denominations work to facilitate the connections and covenant: the tie that binds us in human love.
  4. Protect Physical Assets: This is truer of those denominations that hold the deed to all church property.  But all Denominations help their churches in the preservation of buildings and facilities.
  5. Protect Human Assets:  Denominations work to develop excellence among their clergy and laity and oversee the preparation for ordination along with faith formation for all ages.
  6. See/Solve Problems:  Denominations help churches as they go through transition, encounter obstacles and mediate conflict.
  7. Setting Policies: Denominations develop policies and procedures for the smooth operation of the institution.
 He then went on to describe how these functions will be (or should be) shifted and reframed as the culture around us evolves. 
  1. Embody Ethos:  Denominations facilitate conversations to understand and engage the evolving ethos of human spirituality in Christendom that began emerging in the 70’s.
  2. Conserve Treasures:  Denominations help move the treasures from static preserves of history so that they can be informed by new revelations of the will and wisdom of God.
  3. Support Relationships: Denominations help churches build bridges and relationships between races, ethnicities, and economic classes both locally and globally.
  4. Protect Physical Assets:  Denominations engage in the leveraging of assets, closing buildings where necessary and reinvesting the money into new missions and ministries and/or finding new ways to utilize existing buildings for new ministries.
  5. Protect Human Assets:  Denominations help to explore and implement new models of leadership (both ordained and lay) and new organizational structures that best utilize people’s gifts and discernment.
  6. See/Solve Problems: Rather than assuming things need to be repaired to return to the status quo, denominations help explore new goals and models of ministry. ie: Don’t fix it, revise and transform it.  Don’t be reactive, but proactive.
  7. Setting Policies:  Policies are often created to avoid bad things happening or to ensure that they never happen again.  Denominations encourage streamlining (perhaps suspending) of policies for the sake of enabling creativity.  Less bureaucracy and red tape, more permission for innovation.


Don H. Remick

Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.

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