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FIRST-PERSON: Larger churches & their denomination

This is the third in a three-part series by Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, on the topic of joining a denomination. For the first and second articles in this series, click here and here

NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. (BP) — Though many feel we are living in a post-denomination age, I believe denominations still have a valuable role to play in God’s plan for the church. Denominations provide a way for local churches to work together on projects too big for any one church to handle on their own.

(Click here for Part 1 of this series on why I joined a denomination and here for the article on denominations serving churches.)

But what about churches that have grown numerically to the point when they no longer need many of the services the denomination provides? Should they remain invested in a group that provides many services they may no longer need? With the rise of the mega-church, this is a question that even many non-mega-churches are asking.

I think there are a number of reasons why larger churches need to remain involved in and actively support their denomination. Large churches have often learned something about reaching people that other churches need to learn. They often have developed specialized ministries that other churches need to know about.

One might argue that those churches can host their own training conferences and seminars to promote these ideas without any connection to the denomination. While that might be the case, why recreate an information distribution system and spend money on mass advertising when the denomination already has numerous the channels needed to get that information out to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches? It would be better for larger churches to partner with their denomination to provide those training experiences through the denominational system.

Think about this from a local church perspective. If the most gifted church members decided to keep all their talents and abilities to themselves or to only use them for para-church groups and never use them in the local congregation, it would adversely impact the ministry of the local church. It would set the local church back and hinder its effectiveness greatly. The same thing is true when the largest churches in a denomination start doing their own thing outside the denominational system. It robs the group of the very thing they need to move to the next level. When large churches work through the denominational system, instead of outside of it, they help raise the level of training and effectiveness in the entire group.

Then there is the issue of money. Larger churches almost always have more financial resources than smaller churches, yet as they grow, they often redirect their resources away from the denomination toward their own causes. That lowers the resources available to the denomination to offer high-caliber services to the smaller churches that remain — churches which often need those services the most. For example, I serve a denominational missionary organization that serves 337 churches, most of which average less than 85 in regular worship attendance. Twenty five of those 337 churches provide 61 percent of the financial support for our ministry. If any one of those 25 key churches withdrew its support, it would severely limit the services we could provide to the other 312 churches.

Some might be tempted to disparage all of those smaller churches as “ineffective” and therefore not worthy of support. That is not always the case. In our situation, 40 percent of our churches are from 19 different ethnic groups we serve, some of which are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 50 percent of the churches in our network are new church plants less than 10 years old and are still in the process of becoming stable. Many churches in our family of faith are located in small villages and mountain towns or other out-of-the-way places that will never be serviced by a larger church. For the sake of the Gospel, we must have a strong denominational budget so these small churches can continue to be assisted. The only way we can have a strong budget is for our larger churches to continue to support the denomination.

Larger churches may no longer need someone from the denomination to train their Sunday School teachers or deacons, but that does not relieve them of the obligation of assisting the denomination in training Sunday School teachers and deacons in other churches. Larger churches may no longer need financial assistance from the denomination, but many smaller churches do need it and larger churches should have a Kingdom mindset and continue to invest the funds needed for the whole family of churches to be healthy.

There may have been a day when denominations had bloated staffs and wasteful budgets, but those days are long gone. Denominations that are thriving today are lean and efficient and need their larger churches to remain engaged for the sake of the Kingdom.

    About the Author

  • Terry Dorsett