By George Bullard
It is no longer true that denominations provide a majority of the resources needed by many of their congregations. It has been at least a quarter of a century or longer since many denominations in North America could say they provide the majority of the resources for their churches. I am not sure any denominations could currently make this claim.
Resources in this case refer to books, curriculum material, training and continuing education, consulting and coaching services, funding, even seminary or divinity school training for ministers, and many other products and services that could be named.
Generally the more a denomination has congregational autonomy and governance, the fewer resources come from the denomination. The more the denomination has connectional authority and governance the more resources come from the denomination.
The smaller the denomination the fewer resources come from the denomination. The larger the denomination the more resources potentially could come from the denomination, as long as the capacity exists to provide them.
The smaller the congregation the more denominational resources they use. The larger the congregation the fewer denominational resources they use.
Almost two decades ago during a series of focus group interviews for a large denominational organization numerous pastors told me that up to 80 percent of the resources they need to help their congregations thrive do not come from their denomination. Instead, they come from other denominations, parachurch organizations, educational institutions, consulting organizations, and business organizations. I have repeated this research in various forms numerous times and discovered similar results.
Pastors from congregations of all sizes and all types of demographic locations have weighed in on this subject. Some do not get the resources they need from their denomination because their denomination does not offer them. Others do not use denominational resources because they have a negative image of the resources. For some it is simply a matter that they need to try something different to see if they can get traction for vitality and vibrancy.
The result is that many denominational organizations that generate products and services have severely cut back what they offer, merged with other compatible organizations, found new markets outside their denominations or closed down. Budgets for providing consulting, coaching, mediation and facilitation services to congregations have significantly decreased in many denominations.
What happened? Parachurch, non-denominational, multi-denominational, para-denominational and for-profit business organizations happened. They changed the economic and service environment for congregations. They were not restricted by the organizational boxes with fixed boundaries that blinded many denominational organizations to the changing landscape of resources for congregations.
One of the classic characteristics of denominations — which is now changing as some denominations morph into para-denominations — is that denominational organizations have a no-exit relationship with 100 percent of their congregations. As such they strive to provide something for everyone, which can mean they provide mediocrity in too many places.
Parachurch organizations and the others named above have no such restrictions. They do not have to serve all. They can cherry-pick those congregations and their leaders who are the best prospects for their resources. They can work with multiple denominations. They serve non-denominational congregations. If they are nonprofits, they raise money from philanthropists. If for-profits, they raise venture capital and also serve for-profit organizations who they are able to charge higher prices and fees. All of this places traditional denominational organizations at a competitive disadvantage.
Denominations also function based on the emotional support for the way things have always been. When economic realities shift, denominations are slower to adjust. Without profit motive they could lose money on ventures that for-profit organizations would long ago have adjusted or abandoned. Often denominations find themselves playing catch-up to what other organizations are doing.
All of this has resulted in denominations providing fewer resources to congregations. Denominations did not set out to do this. It just happened.