A few years ago one of my students was facing a big decision. He was trying to decide between a future in an independent church (like the one he was raised in) or joining up with a denominational church. Justin took his decision seriously enough to undertake a research project. He interviewed pastors in both kinds of churches to see what they thought were the advantages of being independent or of being in a denomination. His semester-long research project produced a nice report that can be summarized in these “Seven Advantages of a Denomination.”
1. A network of friends who help each other.
Independent pastors said they felt cut off from the mafia-type “family connections” denominational pastor seemed to have. They felt denominational pastors looked out for one another, recommended each other for openings, and even took care of each others’ kids when they entered the ministry.
2. Lots of connections for moving to another church.
Independent pastors thought denominational pastors had an easier time finding new churches. They cited internet sites that helped them, but they felt “on their own” when they left a church and believed denominational ministers got some help finding a new church.
3. Pre-paid resources on call.
Though few denominational pastors would agree, independent pastors actually cited denominational programs, packets and personnel “on call” when they needed them as something they missed, even though it cost denominational churches annual dues or other yearly fees.
4. Cooperating to do things together that feed back to the local church.
Independent pastors tended to cooperate in just as many things outside their church as denominational pastors did, yet they still cited this as one advantage of a denomination they missed—banding together with like-minded churches for education, mission and evangelism. They all had similar connections beyond their local church, but they tended to plug into dozens of different organizations to do it and sometimes felt they were merely channeling funds to the pet projects of their local laity and their relatives.
5. Leadership toward worthy goals.
Independent pastors felt they got scant support when they tried to move their church beyond themselves. They often felt outnumbered. Most of the pastors surveyed sensed their laity had more power in their church (compared to the clergy) than denominational pastors. They believed that denominational leaders “backed their pastors” more when trying to prompt the laity to move to greater outreach. Some felt like the denominational ministers answered to their denomination more than being “employees” of the local laity.
6. Someone assigned to discipline and develop.
Independent pastors worried about the lack of an external authority for bringing discipline and correction when things go badly. Some told stories of how churches treated them badly yet with all authority local the laity always had the last word in any conflict. They believed denominational pastors had someone “above them” to crack the whip and defend them against wrong-headed laity. (Less frequently mentioned but also cited was the occasional need for correction of a pastor gone bad.)
7. External standards of membership.
Independent pastors thought denominations could have more open rules for members. With the local church setting their own membership rules they believed they had to live with greater restriction than the broader denominational rules. They also believed the rules set locally were sometimes used to exclude younger and newer people from greater participation who might threaten the cadre of current leaders positions.
copyright 2007, Keith Drury
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.