Greg Ogden’s book, “Unfinished Business,” has greatly influenced my thinking and ministry through its emphasis that ministry does not only belong to clergy but is also the responsibility of all believers.
After making his case, Ogden turns to what needs to happen in churches for this transition to occur, commenting that “denominational life as we know it is perhaps fifty years from extinction.”
He went on to explain several things that were happening that caused him to make this prediction:
1. Denominations existed to keep alive a theological tradition. In many denominations today, it is difficult to find any sense of clarity of their theological heritage.
2. With that heritage came a commitment to a style of worship. Without ever looking at the name of the church, one could usually tell what denomination a church belonged to by their style of worship. With the variety of worship styles today, that is no longer the case.
3. People younger than 60 have little loyalty to denominations, and this includes pastors.
4. Many denominational churches believe it is more of a liability than an asset to be associated with a denomination.
5. Numerous churches are now removing the denominational names from their church title. While maintaining their relationship to the denomination, these churches are minimizing that relationship to appeal to more people.
Of course, people have been predicting the death of denominations for many years, but Ogden’s statement was that denominational life “as we know it” is perhaps 50 years from extinction.
At this point, his prediction is about 25 years old, and I don’t think too many people would argue with the assertion that denominations are weaker now than they were 25 years ago.
In the next 25 years, could we see an even further erosion of denominational life and perhaps even the death of some denominational bodies?
I think so, for the same reasons Ogden notes in the book, as well as at least one additional reason: the failure of denominations to recognize the growing number of bivocational churches within their denomination.
It is not uncommon today for one-third to one-half of all the churches in a denomination to now be led by bivocational pastors, and yet these pastors and the churches they serve continue to be ignored by most denominational bodies.
There are numerous judicatories who are addressing the needs of these churches and their pastors, but at the denominational level there is very little being done to resource and serve these churches.
I hear from bivocational pastors on a regular basis how lonely they feel as if their needs are being totally ignored by their denominations.
No business would last long if it ignored the needs of one-third to one-half of its customers, but this is what many denominations are doing.
These churches and pastors need support so they turn to para-church organizations or other resources for the assistance they need.
Their loyalty and financial support is then given to the ones who provide them with resources.
For the foreseeable future, I believe the number of bivocational churches will continue to grow.
The denominations that are able to recognize this shift and are willing to support these churches can have a bright future.
The denominations that refuse to do either will soon find they are no longer relevant to the majority of their churches and will be abandoned by those churches.
At that point, those denominations will no longer exist.
I think Ogden is right, in another 25 years denominational life “as we know it” will no longer exist.
Denominations are going to have to make some major changes in how they relate to churches and the resources they make available if they want to have any kind of a future ministry.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.