Culture in America has changed and has been changing for decades. The last half of the twentieth century probably saw more church merging and consolidation than ever before in the history of our country... and that trend is not slowing down. Oh it may be argued that non-denominational churches are on the rise, but many of the larger non-denominational churches are assimilating existing congregations into them as satellite campuses. The language of their connections may differ from church to church, but the biggest church growth among them is likely happening congregation by congregation, not person by person.
The map above is not about competition between denominations, it is about the power of generalizations. If you look at the legend, it claims that Baptists claim the greatest number of counties nationwide. That may be a bit misleading however because "Baptist" is not a denomination, but rather a collection of well over 100 distinct denominations. The same could be said of any of the major "mainline" Protestant denominations. Roman Catholics may be the closest to being exempt from this, although there are a few divisions even within the Catholic denomination. Perhaps the greatest adherents are the Non-denominational churches - every single one of which claims to be entirely independent of every other non-denominational church.
Why does this matter? If you go out and ask someone what kind of church they prefer, chances are they are not going to say Salt Lick Separate Independant Baptist Church of Holiness. They will just say Baptist. If someone attends an Evangelical Free Methodist Church but moves to a new location where there is no Evangelical Free Methodist Church, they will at least look into another branch of the Methodist Church family if one is available.
Our friend, the behavioral bell curve again shows us that the most consistent attendance from a community comes from maintaining 50% of the choice available. That means, the more specific and unique you make your particular congregation, the less influence you have in the community. This again is the strength of both the Catholic (Roman Catholic) Church as well as the Non-Denomination Church(es). If you have claim to represent a denomination, you gain the attention of anyone who chooses to align themselves with that particular perspective. Particularly as a non-denominational church, you may share no beliefs at all with the next nearest non-denominational church, but the claim to the name itself will bring people who also claim that name. That is significant for reaching those who already claim church affiliation but who are not presently attending a church. The church with ties to some kind of greater group belief will outlast the one who is a unique congregation, distinct from all other congregations. So, if you are thinking about changing your church name, it might be worth your while to keep your denomination somewhere up front, or at least claim to be non-denominational.
Today, the greater challenge actually lies with those who are not church affiliated at all. Churches are not just competing with each other for time, they are competing with work, sports, vacations, and any number of non-church activities. The growing churches are learning ways to provide many of those options themselves through church-sponsored sports, fun and fellowships activities, community meals, movie and theater presentations, and with the increase in local church technology - musical concerts. The question has moved from where you want to go to worship to where do you want to go to get great food, hear good music, learn something new, and have a lot of fun while doing it. It is not all about entertainment, but if a local church can give people just a bit of the experience of going to a theme park or concert hall, fine dining, or college class, and do it without requiring the purchase of a ticket each week, you quickly become the go-to place for many of those needs and move toward that 50% of options for their time. I think the church nowadays refers to this concept as building community.
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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