In the wide-ranging discussion among church leaders and scholars over the wavering future of denominational loyalty, new research shows such loyalty is indeed alive and growing.
In the Christian Century (March 15), sociologist Nancy Ammerman reports on research by her and others at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research that included interviews with people in 549 congregations in eight denominations.The Hartford researchers found several significant forces at work; many church people do want to continue their unique denominational features, especially those in the more traditional regions of the South and Midwest.
Also, the congregation’s understanding of identification stems largely from the leadership of those who grew up in that respective tradition. The researchers found that the loyalists understood how many new and potential members might not have the long-time identification with their respective “cradle” churches.
Yet such conscious loyalty is occurring, in a time and society buffeted by major social and cultural changes. The researches found that these more loyal church people intentionally work at staying committed to their traditions; if clergy and laity assume that denomination isn’t important, than this usually becomes a reality for a congregation. The loyalists focus on three key aspects of congregational life — worship, mission, and education.
They use their own denominations’ educational materials, eschewing that of non-denominational, generic publishers. They carefully nurture their denominational patterns of worship, with their hymns, liturgy and prayers closely allied with their larger traditions. The loyalists tend to identify their denominational mission with that of the larger church. They are involved in supporting global programs sponsored largely by their own mission and relief agencies.
In sum, “rather than disappearing, their boundaries have been reconstructed in ways that seem to keep them open and connected to a larger world.”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
— By Erling Jorstad