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Lower Denominational Control: Effects of Changing Church Forms

Mark Chaves’ 2011 book, American Religion: Contemporary Trends, outlines a number of ways in which denominations have less and less control over individual congregations:

  • 1 in 5 religious congregations in the United States are now unaffiliated (Chaves 2011). Moreover, 1 in 5 people who attend church attend congregations that are unaffiliated. This is a change over time — the rate was close to 14% in 1989, but had risen to 19% by 2006.
  • While nearly ⅔ of megachurches (congregations with 2000+ members) are affiliated with a denomination, most downplay that relationship. Many of these congregations do not advertise their denominational affiliations in bulletins or prominently on their website.
  • Denominationally-affiliated congregations give less money to the denomination. Between 1998 and 2006, the amount of money denominationally-affiliated congregations gave to the denomination declined from 5% of their income to 4%.

In what ways can affiliation and denominational support affect congregational life? Surely denominations can provide financial and material resources, but also provide guidelines or rules for day-to-day running of the congregation or, in some cases, appointments of pastoral leadership. Congregations that have no or loose affiliations with denominations are able to have more independence in organizational processes, but also have less of a safety net if they begin to struggle.

If your congregation has a denominational affiliation, in what ways can it be seen in worship or in meetings? Do you follow the expected Order of Worship? Do you abide by the requirements for committees or organizational processes?

If your congregation doesn’t have a denominational affiliation, in what ways does that open up your ability to try new things? In what ways is it intimidating to not have a broader connection to a denomination?

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Chaves, Mark. 2011. American Religion: Contemporary Trends. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org