Russell Moore has an excellent OP-ED in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal about the decline of denominations among American Christians. He writes:
“More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?
“This trend is a natural extension of the American evangelical experiment. After all, evangelicalism is about the fundamental message of Christianityâ€”the evangel, the gospel, literally the ‘good news’ of God’s kingdom arriving in Jesus Christâ€”not about denomination building.”
Moore says that even though surveys show the waning of denominationalism, a younger generation of evangelicals are coming back to it. He concludes:
“If denominationalism simply denotes a ‘brand’ vying for market share, then let denominationalism fall. But many of us believe denominations can represent fidelity to living traditions of local congregations that care about what Jesus cared aboutâ€”personal conversion, discipleship, mission and community. Perhaps the denominational era has just begun.”
Read the rest here.
I would say the evangelical trend is not moving towards the “death” denominations, but towards a “post-denominational” doctrinal identification. Large umbrella networks of like minded evangelicals (the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Desiring God, 9 Marks etc) are dominating the conversation nowadays. This is, in my opinion, a positive trend, because it comes out of a desire to concentrate evangelical efforts towards first tier theological issues, and missional ministry. A lot of young Christians are simply tired of encountering churches that are overwhelmingly concerned with their church government tradition and associational meetings.
I hear what you are saying, but I think you are confusing denominations with para-church or publication/conference oriented items.
Desiring God and 9 Marks are not denominational, they have blossomed into conferences and publications since the books were written. Capital Hill Baptist church (9 Marks) is solidly SBC and Dever has made no insinuation that 9 Marks is at odds with the SBC. A similar thing could be said for Bethelhem Baptist and John Piper’s Desiring God publications/seminars. I don’t know of any churches (perhaps you do) that have formed (with a Constitution) that say they are a 9 Marks church or a Desiring God church.
As for Acts 29, they are, in a real sense, an association. They are an association of churches connected to each through the desire to plant churches. There are expections, requirements, etc.
If, as you say, young Christians are tired of associational meetings and/or church government, then they are going to join an independent church that is not tied to anything. Further, if they don’t want church government issues they will be joining churches where the pastor or the elders makes all the decisions–hence they won’t be congregational.
At the end of the day every church has governmental issues and the ones that want to “associate” with other organizations for the purposes of ministry will join something. While younger Christians may be pulling away from the existing denominations that are in the U.S., if they want to partner for the gospel it will sooner or later end up a denomination or something very similar.
Unless they want to be staunchly independent. And there are many churches that do.