NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Three-quarters of pastors with denominational affiliation believe it is vital to be part of a denomination, but a majority also believe that the importance of identifying with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.
That is the finding of a survey by LifeWay Research of more than 900 American Protestant pastors. The survey excluded pastors of nondenominational churches.
In response to the statement, “Personally, I consider it vital for me to be part of a denomination,” three-quarters of pastors (76 percent) agree. That includes 57 percent who strongly agree and 19 percent who somewhat agree. Ten percent somewhat disagree and 14 percent strongly disagree while 1 percent don’t know.
Similarly, three-quarters (77 percent) of pastors agree with the statement, “Our congregation considers it vital for our congregation to be part of a denomination.” Fifty percent strongly agree, 27 percent somewhat agree, 9 percent somewhat disagree and 14 percent strongly disagree. Two percent don’t know.
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, expressed his appreciation for the findings.
“Since denominations are a way to distinguish one’s belief and practice, it is heartening to know that most pastors still understand the need for making a clear statement doctrinally as well as to work together to do the work God has commanded,” he said.
“Therefore, I am excited to realize that a majority of pastors still understand that we can do more together than we can do apart. It is also encouraging to know that the teaching of God’s Word and its distinctive application is still important to many,” he added.
Despite the convictions of identity, however, nearly two-thirds of pastors (62 percent) believe the importance of identifying with a denomination will decline over the next decade.
Survey participants were asked, “I believe that the importance of being identified with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.” Twenty-eight percent of pastors strongly agree and 34 percent somewhat agree. Fifteen percent somewhat disagree, and 18 percent strongly disagree. Five percent don’t know.
“We live in a time when pastors are positive about denominations now, but are less certain about the future,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. “For pastors and churches in the SBC, it reminds us that we need to teach the value of cooperation — now and in the future.”
Evangelical, educational differences.
The survey results reveal that pastors who consider themselves mainline are more likely than evangelicals to agree (strongly or somewhat) that their personal membership in a denomination is important. While 85 percent of mainline pastors agree that it is vital to be part of a denomination, only 74 percent of evangelicals agree.
Education and age also affect pastors’ opinions of denominations. Those with at least a master’s degree (62 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their personal denominational identification is vital than pastors with a bachelor’s degree (41 percent) or some college (48 percent).
Pastors ages 65 and older are more likely to strongly agree (71 percent) that their personal denominational identification is vital than those ages 55-64 (58 percent), 45-54 (55 percent) and 18-44 (48 percent).
The same groups — mainline versus evangelical, education and age — have differences in responses from pastors regarding whether their congregations consider identifying with a denomination to be important:
— Those who consider themselves mainline (85 percent) are more likely than evangelicals (77 percent) to agree (strongly or somewhat) that their congregation considers it vital to be part of a denomination.
— Pastors with at least a master’s degree (53 percent) and those with some college (45 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their congregation considers denominational membership vital than pastors with a bachelor’s degree (35 percent).
— Although age does not affect total agreement, pastors 65 and older (62 percent) are more likely to strongly agree that their church considers denominational affiliation vital than pastors ages 55-64 (48 percent), 45-54 (49 percent) or 18-44 (45 percent).
Pastors of larger churches are most likely to agree (strongly or somewhat) that the importance of denominations will diminish over the next decade. Seventy-two percent of those with churches averaging 250 or more in worship agree, compared with 62 percent of those averaging 50-99 and 53 percent of those averaging fewer than 50.
Pastors with less than a bachelor’s degree (28 percent) are more likely to strongly disagree than pastors with at least a master’s degree (14 percent) that the importance of identifying with a denomination will diminish over the next decade.
Although the majority of all age groups agree that identifying with a denomination will decrease in importance, pastors 65 and older are the most likely age bracket to strongly disagree. While 27 percent 65 and older strongly disagree, only 16 percent ages 55-64, 15 percent 45-54 and 16 percent 18-44 strongly disagree.
“Ironically, the future value of most denominations depends at least in part on the very pastors who predict their decline in influence,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay. “The group most likely to predict denominational decline is pastors of larger churches, which is probably not surprising to most observers. Yet, it does point to the future challenge for denominational leaders.”
The poll, conducted in March 2010, surveyed 932 pastors.
David Roach is a writer and pastor in Shelbyville, Ky.