Postdenominational Church

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Postdenominational Church

Substantial changes in worship style and organizational structure characterize many of America's fastest-growing churches. These congregations are not associated with one of the traditional denominations, but instead are founded as independent congregations or else are associated with networks and movements of churches that resist the organizational hierarchy that defines most denominations. These churches are often led by the founding pastor, who may not have received formal theological training, but instead reports having felt a strong "call" from the Holy Spirit to plant a church. Typically these churches began as a Bible study in this individual's home and then grew to a large enough scale that the group rented a public space for Sunday worship, such as a theater or school auditorium. Pastors of postdenominational churches are often relatively young; many have had dramatic conversion experiences; and they typically have demonstrated their leadership in a local church prior to deciding to plant a church of their own. During the early years of their ministry, these pastors are self-supporting and only when the church has reached a critical size of one hundred or more do they rely on the support of this fledgling congregation that has emerged under their leadership.

The postdenominational church is an amorphous entity with roots in the 1960s counter-cultural reaction to organized religion. Members of the so-called Jesus movement held worship in parks and on beaches, feeling that the spirit of Christianity was antithetical to the bricks and mortar, clerical vestments, ritual practice, and theological dogma that were associated with "institutional" religion. In recent years the focus of the post-denominational church has not been associated with countercultural reaction but instead is part of a restorationist movement to recapture the spirit of the early Christian church. Furthermore, there are pastors who identify with the postdenominational movement who are nevertheless part of denominational churches. Consequently, C. Peter Wagner, a professor of missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, who hosted the National Symposium on the Postdenominational Church in May of 1996, now refers to this movement as the "New Apostolic Reformation," since the goal is to model the contemporary church after the first-century gatherings of Christians. Another strain of this movement is connected to the Willow Creek Association, which offers consulting services and conferences for pastors who are searching for resources to build a "seeker-sensitive" church. In addition, popular speakers and workshop leaders such as Rick Warren (Saddleback Community Church) and Robert Schuller (Crystal Cathedral)—as well as consulting groups such as the Leadership Network—promote ideas that fit what has been called the "new paradigm" church.

Postdenominational churches typically share the following characteristics: They were started after the mid-1960s; the majority of congregational members were born after 1945; seminary training of clergy is optional; worship is contemporary; lay leadership is highly valued; the churches have extensive small-group ministries; clergy and congregants dress informally; tolerance of different personal styles is prized; pastors are understated, humble, and self-revealing; bodily, rather than merely cognitive, participation in worship is the norm; the gifts of the Holy Spirit are affirmed; and Bible-centered teaching predominates over topical sermonizing.

See alsoBelonging, Religious; Church; Cult; Denomination; Jesus Movement; New Religious Movements; Religious Communities; Seeker Churches.


Miller, Donald E. "Postdenominational Christianity in the Twenty-First Century." Annals. 1998.

Wagner, C. Peter. The New Apostolic Churches. 1998.

Donald E. Miller