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Malone Takes on the Denomination Thing

November 1, 2012

Pastor Jonathan Malone has written an interesting post about his experience of churches and denominations. It got me thinking about all this again. Full disclosure, Jonathan and I do a podcast together called 12 Enough that you can download and listen to if you've got the inclination. He likens the relationship of churches and denominations as they stand now to what happens at a Jr. High School Dance, and manages to weave Foucault in there as well. No small feat.

While I'll leave the heavy theologizing to him, I ran into this myself recently as I missed yet another denominational event in my own backyard. Super Saturday at Tri-Valley Technical School right here in Franklin, hosted by the Mass Conference of the United Church of Christ. Why did I miss it? Well, ten things came up.

And I chose.

I chose to do the other things, as I almost always do, even when there are great resources and important workshops. Why does this keep happening? Are all ministers as introverted as I am? Are others as bored by meeting culture as I am? Are we all just to family-focused to want to take any additional time out for other things?

I don't know what the answer is here, but I do know that my own personal lack of connection to the denomination(s) I serve is helping to foster the lack of connection at our church. Are denominational reps reaching out? They sure are. They are doing admirable work of connecting with local pastors and trying to keep everything together in an era of vastly dwindling resources. Malone alludes to this in his piece. But they are also crowded out by the exact same things that are crowding out the churches from the lives of individual believers.

Every Sunday my people choose things that do not happen at church to focus on. Luckily for us, they do this in waves rather than all at once, but the net effect is that, three years into my pastorate here, we are STILL hovering around the 120 mark most weeks. Knowing the size of many local congregations, I don't take this for granted. 120 souls in a church in New England is no laughing matter, and I am grateful to every single person who takes the time to show up. But we cannot grow past that point when a majority of our members and friends think that showing up twice a month is a good enough church commitment. Now take that spirit and string it along into denominations; if I connect with the denomination(s) at least once a year, I think I'm doing pretty well.

And yet, oblivious to most other aspects of our corporate lives, denominations seem to still thrive in meeting culture, doing most of their work around conference tables rather than online where it makes sense to do most of the heavy decision work. Face to face meetings? Fellowship? How dare they? Seriously, I'm a fan of face to face, far more so than Facebook. But there still comes this moment where, with a finite amount of our most valuable resources (it's still time, it's still not money) we must make a choice. I will always choose to be with my family on days off from church.

I guess I'll get to Super Saturday when my kids are old enough to go? I'd be mirroring the habits of most congregants in New England protestant churches these days.



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