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So You Want to Launch a New Denomination?


Denomination NamesJoshua contacted me the other day to tell me he wanted to start a new denomination. My first thought was,
 “Are you crazy? It is not yet the ninth hour and already you are ingesting weird substances?”

I did not verbalize this thought to him. I was more Rogerian. “Tell me more,” I wrote, “Or, would you like to talk?”

We talked by conference call a few days later. He had two other people with him on the call, so I knew it was not just a nightmare he had one night. There might be some substance to it.

Actually this was not the first time I had talked with Joshua about this. And, it was definitely not the first time I had talked with anyone about it.

Thirty-five years ago in a think-tank experience on Christian ministry in North American metropolitan areas, my small group came up with the recommendation that a new denomination be formed. The focus would be to reach certain people demographics in the central cities of major metropolitan areas.

The main purpose would be to reach people who were in the lower half of the socio-economic scale who were not the focus of any current evangelical or mainline denomination. It was felt existing middle to upper middle class denominations had too many cultural barriers to be effective in providing Christian ministry among people in the lower half of the socio-economic scale.

The strategic thought was to create a new denomination that could craft from the beginning a culture that connected authentically with people of various races, ethnicities, and cultures who happened to have incomes below the average person in metropolitan areas.  It was perceived this type of grassroots denominational movement would be more effective than a central or decentralized strategic effort by any existing middle to upper middle class denomination.

The idea, however, was too radical for the sponsors of this urban think tank who were looking at ways to improve the strategic effectiveness of their own denomination.  Their response alone indicates why new denominations are needed in metropolitan areas if the fulfillment of the Great Commission and Great Commandment is to be effective in communities composed of people with more modest socio-economic means.

 It was a nice think tank, but nothing ever came of it. Surprised?

Now back to Joshua. He first contact me five years earlier when the parachurch organization of which he is executive director began to think about the possibility of forming a new denomination in their region of North America. At that time only a few people in their organization were thinking in that direction. Now there seemed to be a grassroots movement among their participating congregations to seriously consider launching a new denomination. They were ready to strategize in more concrete terms.

The first thing I did was pull out a dialogue paper I had written for them five years earlier discussing a dozen points I thought they should consider about the launch of a new denomination in a denominational transformation era.  In reviewing the document, I realized some of the 12 points are still valid, but others are not.  I would not advise launching a new denomination in the same way today I had suggested just five years earlier.

I had subtitled the earlier manuscript Or, Reinventing or Resurrecting an Existing One.  The idea was if an existing denomination was willing to reinvent itself, it would need to follow some of the same steps as a new denomination.

Before I share these dozen principles for launching a new denomination in a denominational transformation era, let me pose a few questions.

First, do you think it is a reasonable idea to consider launching a new denomination in 2016?  Second, if you propose to launch a new denomination, what would be some legitimate reasons for wanting to do so?  Third, how many of these reasons are positive and forward-looking, and how many are negative and focused on trying to fix what's wrong with an existing denomination?

Fourth, what would be the advantage of launching a new denomination as opposed to seeking to reinvent or resurrect an existing denomination? Fifth, what are parts of the denomination with which you're currently affiliated that do not need to be part of a new denomination?  Sixth, what are the essential things a new denomination needs to have the capacity to do?

Seventh, does a new denomination need to be organized on a hierarchical scale, a decentralized scale, with a network approach? Why?

Think about these questions in preparation for reading my future posts on the 12 principles I would use to launch a new denominational movement.

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