Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Decline of the Denomination and the Ascendancy of Churches

The decline of the cost of information has a disrupting effect on institutions - sometimes helpful, sometimes unhelpful. An example would be the role that Gutenberg's printing press played in the Protestant Reformation. The ability to print information facilitated the spread of Protestant Reformation ideas and therefore the movement. The radio also helped to change history - think of the impact of FDR's radio addresses on the United States during WWII. The television has had a similar effect and, today, the Internet is continuing to illustrate what happens when information becomes cheaper.

These information declines render some organizations unnecessary and change the ways that others function. Denominations are not immune from this phenomenon.

One result seems to be that as denominations are declining in their influence, certain effective individual churches seem to be increasing in the impact that they have on the visible church as a whole. Some have called these churches "Lighthouse Churches." It remains to be seen if denominations will be able to reconfigure in time to fully adapt to and take advantage of our new information situation.

Kent Shaffer of Church Relevance has posted a fascinating list of what he terms "The Top 22 Churches in America."

Shaffer culled this list by finding the 22 churches that made at least 5 of the following 7 lists:

Using these same lists, Shaffer's also compiled a list of over 250 churches in the US called Churches to Watch that are divided by state.

Care must be taken when examining such lists and Lighthouse Churches. Churches transform communities because of effective people of talent and character. It is easy to be distracted by the programs of Lighthouse Churches into thinking that a mere duplication of those programs will also duplicate results. We must avoid an inappropriate megachurch triumphalism that fails to recognize how absolutely foundational Spirit-filled and Spirit-gifted people are to megachurch program effectiveness. (We've elaborated on this here.)

That critical caution being expressed, we can nevertheless learn from such churches and see how they have optimized various people-systems for kingdom impact.

Related Articles or Posts:

image courtesy of Aleš Čerin @ stock.xchng

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Steve K. said...


This is an interesting topic. We often talk about living in a "post-denominational" age, but during my time recently with European and West African leaders of my organization this topic took a different turn. The perception of some internationally seems to be that we are actually living in a time of "new denominationalism" not centered on theology or creed but around personalities -- aka the churches that follow Rick Warren (Saddleback), the churches that follow Bill Hybels (Willow Creek), the churches that follow John Piper (Bethlehem), the churches that follow Tim Keller (Redeemer), etc. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that. It was quite a revelation to me ...

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous pic!

Stephen said...


Yes, I loved that picture, though it's hardly representative of Lighthouse Churches!


I think that's a very interesting insight and it seems to me that there is some truth to it at all levels of org. In this vein I tend to think of the Israeli's wanting to hear from Moses rather from God directly. I think we sometimes would much rather put our faith in a man we can see and hear than in a God Who doesn't always reveal Himself to us. This can happen at the church, megachurch, parachurch, or denominational levels.

So I think a takeaway for us would be: are we confident that whatever suprachurch org we're creating is based on eternalities rather than temporalities.

Steve S. said...

Doesn't the list of 'Lighthouse Churches' emphasize sheer numerical growth? Is this really the way in which Jesus intends the Church to impact the world?

I know this is an old topic of conversation...

Dad said...

Check out the source for this list:

Rising Evangelical Star Jason Christy Leaves Trail of Fraud, Associates Say
By Hannah Elliott

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Aug. 1 /ABP/ -- When young, charismatic Christian publisher Jason Christy was tapped two years ago to lead the powerful Christian Coalition, the group's leaders praised him for his ability "to inspire and encourage people of faith to action." But Christy's business dealings -- both before and after his one-month affiliation with the Coalition -- instead have inspired former customers and co-workers to file lawsuits charging Christy with defrauding their Christian businesses.

Christy, 36, who apparently had no previous public-policy experience, persuaded the Christian Coalition in 2005 to place him in one of the most visible and powerful positions in evangelical life. But before the coalition's leaders officially turned over the reins of their 1.2 million-member national lobbying group, they learned of a trail of legal and financial problems that has followed Christy from coast to coast.

Former associates and customers of Christy's many business ventures -- mostly Christian magazines -- say he cheated them out of money and threatened them. At least 10 of them have filed lawsuits, Associated Baptist Press has learned, and others have gotten court-issued restraining or protection orders against the Scottsdale, Ariz., businessman.

Christy says all the allegations are false. He and his supporters say "enemies" are spreading lies about him because of soured business relationships. But critics say Christy is a scam artist preying on trusting Christians.

Christy now publishes The Church Report, supposedly a conservative, national print magazine and web site. He has appeared as an analyst on CNN and spoken at megachurches like Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. He hob-nobs with some of the evangelical elite and still has relationships with leaders in highly respected positions, like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

This article is continued at Associated Baptist Press News: http://www.abpnews.com/2685.article

Also at The Baptist Standard: http://www.baptiststandard.com/postnuke/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=6646 and

Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/augustweb-only/131-35.0.html