big regional youth conference has been cancelled. Because of
The leader of the denominational office notified all the
churches in the region that he decided to pull the plug. The
reason? Conference organizers had planned to use Christian songs
that did not come from the official denominational worship
He cited church rules that require the “exclusive use of
doctrinally pure agenda” and “theologically correct hymns and
So, what has been gained by the cancellation of the youth
conference? Well, the churches’ teenagers have been protected from
attending a conference and hearing Christian songs penned by
“unapproved” Christian composers. Instead, the kids spent the time
at home listening to their usual secular songs.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case of churches’
desperate attempts to cling to their man-made sectarian rules,
relics and soapboxes. They’re in survival mode. But their actions
amount to acts of institutional suicide.
Most denominations in America are shrinking-some rather
precipitously. Financial giving is down. Generally, the influence
of the church in American culture is dimming. Faith in the
institution of the church is waning, particularly among the
In the face of these negative trends, many church bodies have
taken a bunker mentality. They’ve attempted to isolate, tighten
controls, lob grenades at anyone outside their bunker, dig in and
clutch what’s left inside.
Some believe their only chance for survival lies in
denominational brand distinctiveness. And they’re resolved to ride
their quaint distinctives to the very end. They’ve adopted the old
Kodak brand mindset: “Our hope resides in clinging to what we’ve
been known for, to what we’ve always done. If we don’t stand
for film, what do we stand for?” Kodak old-timers forgot they were
really in the picture business, not the film business. Similarly,
many in the church have forgotten they’re in the faith business,
not the doctrinal nit-picking business.
These churches aren’t withering because they’re not gripping
tightly enough to brand distinctives. Their enemy is not other
brands, other churches, other believers, other doctrinal nuances.
The enemy is much more elemental. The enemy is disbelief.
If we want any hope of reversing troubling church trends,
especially among young people, we must focus not on tribal
heritage, denominational branding, theological hair-splitting, or
pharisaical purity. We must focus on Jesus-and his sacrificial love
for us and all people.