It seems that denominationalism has had its day. A 2009 Barna survey found that denominational commitments have gone squishy in mainline Protestant churches, and Evangelicals don’t fare much better than the rest. After a similar survey, Ron Sellers of what was then Ellison Research said that Protestants are as “loyal to their denominations as they are to their toothpaste.” Denominationalism may recover, but its diseases look terminal. This toothpaste isn’t ready to return to the tube.
Like most everything, this development has its pluses and minuses. Denominations were born of a catholic spirit. They enabled believers to maintain their distinctive beliefs without de-churching the rest of the Christian world. It would be tragic if the decline of denominations left the church less catholic. Plus, without thick denominational loyalties, Christians abandon their churches at the first shimmy of trouble. Once upon a time, Anglicans stuck it out because even an incompetent pastor and an ugly carpet were preferable to joining the Lutherans. Today Lutheranism is a live option. And the Barna survey found that low denominational loyalty often expressed a weak adherence to Christianity itself. Slightly less than half of the respondents were “absolutely” committed to Christianity, and most might be enticed to explore other religions.