A decade ago my mate Darrell Jackson wrote a paper with the provocative title ‘Does the future have a denomination?’ I thought it pretty prescient and nicked it for the conclusion to my book Building a Better Body, where I asked it of the church.
I was working for BMS World Mission at the time and we were revamping our entire communications strategy to take account of the growing non-denominationalism of an increasing number of our supporting churches. They supported us because of what we were doing overseas, not because we or they were Baptist. Our focus was shifting from associations to individual churches and even individuals within those churches, who were being signed up as supporters. The centralising and slimming down of the co-ordinator team (of which I had been a part) seems a logical development of this.
Darrell’s paper and the BMS’ action were the result of trends within our churches where denominational awareness was decaying. People chose to attend Baptist churches because they were local, evangelical, charismatic, socially engaged, where my mum and dad worshipped (or any combination of those factors). Few confessed to being Baptists.
Even fewer had any awareness of the association of which their Baptist church was part or what the Union was. What mattered was that their church provided what they were looking for; if it came with a Baptist label that was ok, but inconsequential.
In eight years back in local church ministry, I’ve not seen anything that suggests this trend is being reversed. One member out of 300 lamented the passing of the Baptist Times, before commenting that he hadn’t read it for years; few go to association gatherings and only a couple show any interest in the Assembly – despite the fact that I was involved in putting together one strand of it for the first five years of my time here. They’re not alone: attendance at the annual jamboree has all-but halved in the last decade.