Mainline denominations and seminaries are borrowing from evangelicals and streamlining their structures to allow for more church-planting efforts led by experienced laypeople in the field, writes Jesse James DeConto in the Christian Century (April 4).
Mainline denominations have tended to restrict new church start-ups to trained and ordained clergy, but growing concern over church decline, especially among young adults, has forced them to take a new approach. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has recently lifted its requirement that church planters serve three years in an established congregation, allowing new seminary graduates to launch into church planting. “Some denominations have even dropped the requirement that missioners be ordained before they serve and are supporting entrepreneurs who are building congregations among immigrants or young urban adults,” DeConto writes.
Most of the start-ups profiled in the article appear to be “post-modern” or “emerging” plants, using ancient traditions and rites accompanied by “progressive” or liberal perspectives—such as a group holding an “agape” feast in Brooklyn and a ministry opened in a tattoo parlor in Pittsburgh, while others are based in intentional communities associated with the New Monasticism movement. Many seminaries have updated their curricula to focus on church planting, although church-planting specialists find that a seminary education is rarely one of the characteristics of those who are effective in the field.
For instance, in the United Methodist Church, “more and more laypeople are starting Methodist churches and bypassing the usual ordination track.” These moves stem from institutional fear of terminal decline, sparking a renewed interest in evangelism. As one Presbyterian official said, “We‘re not doing anything prophetic. We’re doing what the Pentecostals [and] the Baptists … have been doing for the last 20 or 100 years. I’m afraid that most of the seminaries are not catching up.”
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