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Five Observations in the New Era of Christian Networks—and What Denominations Need to Learn

Last year a group of denominational leaders asked me to share with them why people were more attracted to networks than denominations. They asked about some ways denominations could become more like networks. Here’s what I shared with them, edited and made into article form.

There’s no denying the power, pervasiveness and efficacy of Christian networks in recent Christian history. This shift continues to gather people and gain momentum globally and I’ve written and given more context to networks in previous articles. These networks are a frequent topic of conversation today.

In short, networks are reinventing how Evangelicals and others cooperate and shaping ministry in many contexts and across various denominational barriers. For those seeking to better understand this new reality, here are five observations about the trend that may prove helpful.

People are attracted to fire, not fences.

Denominations are often built inside fences. “You’re in or you’re out” is how they view participation.

Networks are built on fire and energy: “We’re doing this together and we’re in this together.” This can often mean the difference between momentum and stagnation in ministry. When you get together in these networks, you see the energy that’s the fire at the center drawing people together and impacting ministries.

In contrast, you go to denominational meetings and spend most of the time debating the fences. Denominations can lose energy due to defining and debating of non-essentials. If they do not spend time discussing what draws them together and motivates them, people will go to where the fire is.

(Let me add that I believe deeply in denominations, and wrote the cover story in Christianity Today on the value of denominations. I am also a believer in the importance of doctrinal statements. I’m providing observations about why people are attracted to network partnerships.)

People like partnerships, not taxation.

Too often denominational giving feels like a tax while network finances seem like a partnership. If you sell your giving as a taxation plan, you can expect the Boston Tea Party. On the other hand, when I’m giving to network functions I can often see the faces of those who receive the money. Network giving feels closer to me. It’s going to church plants rather than a perceived bureaucracy.

If denominations are going to be more network-like, we have to ask the question, “How do we make this feel more like a partnership and less like taxation?” We have to find a way to cast a compelling vision of partnership that will compel giving in relationship.