A majority of Protestant pastors whose churches belong to a denomination consider them to be “vital” yet believe the importance of denominations will diminish over the next decade, according to a new Lifeway Research survey.
The poll of 1,007 Protestant pastors was released this month and found that more than three-fourths (78 percent) of pastors who belong to a denomination say they personally “consider it vital for me to be part of a denomination” (53 percent strongly agree and 25 percent somewhat agree with the statement). Twenty percent disagree.
A similar percentage (77 percent) of pastors say their members consider their denomination to be vital.
“Among Protestant churches in the United States, there continues to be denominational splits and disputes, the emergence of new local and national non-denominational networks, and the presence of a large number of churches that do not belong to a denomination, convention or conference,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This begs the question whether those within Protestant denominations still see value in them.”
The pastors in the survey do see value in denominations, although they are not confident about their future. A majority of pastors (63 percent) say they agree with the statement that the “importance of being identified with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.” Nineteen percent strongly agree with the statement, while 44 percent somewhat agree.
That pessimism, though, is similar to what it was in 2010 when 62 percent of pastors said the importance of denominations would diminish in the next decade. (In 2010, 28 percent strongly agreed with the statement, and 34 percent somewhat agreed.)
Among pastors ages 18-44 in the new poll, only 54 percent agree with the statement about the future of denominations.
“Many, including pastors, who predicted the demise of Protestant denominations in the U.S. have not proven prophetic,” McConnell said. “The fact that younger pastors are less pessimistic could signal better days ahead for denominations or at least fewer memories of the worst days.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.