Every year Outreach Magazine releases a list of the fastest growing churches in America. This year, the #1 slot belonged to a church right in my backyard: The Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama.
Last year a friend and I visited Highlands’ campus to hear John Maxwell lecture on leadership. It wasn’t a religious service, but we were able to see from the church’s facilities one reason, at least, that so many people flock to Highlands for worship every Sunday. I have never seen a church building like the one located on Highlands’ Grants Mill campus. Large, flat panel television monitors decorated every wall, a bright, well-equipped children’s center was visible, there was a Starbuck’s in the lobby, and the auditorium featured comfortable seating and a first-rate P.A. system. Every comfort imaginable was provided.
It would be naive, though, to think that comfortable facilities is all that it took to make the Church of the Highlands the fastest growing church in the country. In fact, a quick glance at Outreach’s list for 2008 suggests another possibility. Only one of the churches in the top ten is ostensibly affiliated with a denomination. The rest of the churches wear names like “Elevation Church,” “Triumph Church,” or “The Rock.” The community church movement has not been shy about its objective of removing the “barrier” of denominational affiliations from the names of their churches. The strategy seems to be working.
I have made references before to a recent study showing that Americans are losing interest in denominational affiliations. Forty-four percent of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another. The demographic benefiting the most is the one that carries people who claim no religious affiliation. People moving into that category outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin. These changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.
The churches of Christ once grew and thrived because of a nondenominational spirit. It is my conviction that the public’s distaste for denominationalism is nothing new. The success of these community churches once belonged to the churches of Christ. The reason they are growing faster than we are today is because they are promoting this spirit, while we are talking about something else.
This is tragic because the churches of Christ have a unique approach to Christianity, combining doctrinal purity with a nondenominational appeal. The community churches may have the nondenominational appeal, but they cannot claim doctrinal purity. They would rather draw from cultural mandates than scriptural authority. But the churches of Christ seek to restore the New Testament church, which was neither unscriptural nor denominational.
Take a lesson from the fastest growing churches in America. People don’t want division. They’re seeking unity. Let’s show them what true unity is all about and build churches on the solid foundation of God’s Word. Growth is sure to follow.