Is your denomination slowly committing suicide?

For decades we have known that persons who smoke multiple packs of cigarettes per day are slowly committing suicide. Many of these people did not want to commit suicide. Some claim they did not know they were committing suicide.

At some point in their life they started smoking because it was cool, to deal with stress, in response to peer pressure, as a rebellion against their parents, because cigarettes were denied to them, or because cigarettes were available to them.

Later they became hooked and even if they wanted to quit many could not or were in denial. Even when they began showing signs of illness they could not stop. Even when they were told they were committing suicide they could not stop. Even when they were hospitalized due to their illness and had surgery to remove diseased parts of their body they could not stop. Even when constantly on oxygen some could not quit.

In What Ways Is This Like Your Denomination?

Many denominations are slowly committing suicide. Suicide is not an intentional destination. It is, however, the unintended consequence of their collective actions over multiple years.

Denominational movements reach a point that they institutionalize. They do this because it is fashionable, to create organizations that will guarantee their survival, in response to requests from parts of the constituency that they provide more programs and management, to complete their rebellion against other Christian groups they do not want to emulate, because focusing on institutional things keep them busy and gains them greater status and notoriety, and because the opportunity was available to them.

Eventually they become hooked and even if they wanted to quit, many cannot or are in denial they are killing themselves. Here are seven ways their suicide is becoming increasingly inevitable. These are not the only ways, but they are effective ways of committing suicide.

First, they lose their first love which is congregations. They focus time, energy, and resources on social and political issues as well as supporting auxiliary institutions rather than congregations. They focus their efforts directly rather than in ways that cooperate with congregations. Rather than building up congregations who can impact issues and institutions, they strive to build up their own role in impacting issues and institutions.

Second, they fail to create and sustain a congregational multiplication movement that launches a number of new congregations each year equal to three percent of the number of congregations they have at the beginning of each new year. The three percent figure is minimal to sustain the denomination when a certain percentage of congregations are dying each year, and a majority of existing congregations are plateaued and declining.

Third, culturally, if not officially, denominations formalize education requirements. All ministers are expected to have a master’s degree from a seminary or divinity school and true leaders are expected to have some type of doctoral degree. This empowers the upward socioeconomic mobility of the denomination and leaves behind masses of demographics who need to be engaged missionally.

Fourth, officially they formalize and perhaps centralize the ordination of ministers. At least it is no longer a local congregational issue—if it ever was. Attempts are made to create and sustain a higher quality of clergy through the ordination process. Too often the excellence in character and competency sought for is a target missed.

Fifth, understanding and hearing the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is misplaced. When denominations believe the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is greater in denominational headquarters than it is at the grassroots, they lessen the power and impact of the Triune God throughout their movement.

Sixth, when denominational headquarters does not understand the difference between a strategic framework and a strategy it may be committing suicide. A strategic framework is what is needed at denominational headquarters, and even in many middle judicatories. Specific contextual strategies are what emerge at the grassroots through individual congregations and networks of congregations.

Seventh, when denominations regularly restructure, their focus is usually on rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The primary outcome of denominational restructuring is often setting that denomination up to restructure again within five years. Even when there are attempts at broad-based ownership among congregational leaders for restructuring efforts the focus is still on managing the past rather than leading into the future.

It is suicide. It is slow. It is sure. Many denominations seem unable to stop themselves and it is devastating.

George Bullard

Author's Website
About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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  • Scott

    This is magnificent…so many cliches and innuendos packed into a single post!

    • George Bullard


  • Scott Shaver

    And here we have the color commentary….play by play. Good work George

    • George Bullard

      Scott, perhaps we ought to do a sports commentary on the suicide march of some denominations. What do you suppose is the good news about denominations? [BTW, I think there is good news and I will write on that later.]

  • Mark Osgatharp

    Denominationalism is foreign to Scriptural Christianity. It is designed to corporatize religion for the purpose of enriching those running the denomination. The Catholics/Orthodox perfected this to a fine art and for hundreds of years operated a monopoly on what they called “The Church”.

    The whole concept of denominationalism is antithetical to the Baptist faith. A more arrogant, self serving and wicked proposition was never made among Baptists than the stated objective of the incorporation of the Southern Baptist Convention: “said corporation being created for the purpose of eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the gospel, any law, usage, or custom to the contrary not withstanding.”


    Would to God that every denomination on earth would shoot itself in the head and that the churches of Jesus Christ would rise up to their God appointed responsibility to preach the gospel of God to the world.

    • George Bullard

      Mark: In the Baptist world the fellowship and sense of community of the network of congregations is in reality the only pure form of Baptist denominationalism. This is best expressed in local congregations and networks of congregations who have a 24/7/365 relationship with one another. These entities are organisms that are living, breathing, and every-changing.

      Regional, national, and international expressions of denominationalism are organization. They do not carry the same magic or mystery of relationship. That is why they institutionalize and risk death by murder or suicide.

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