Altogether, Americans are switching in and out of churches at unprecedented rates, with about half of Americans today saying that they have changed their religious affiliation at some point during their lives, according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention at all. I’m really not quite sure how I feel about it. On one hand, even though I am the ultimate insider–a Church of Christ preacher trained at a Church of Christ university who has never been a member of anything other than a Church of Christ–my own self-assessment is that my denominational loyalty is approximately zero. A lot of what keeps me in Churches of Christ has more to do with relationships and pragmatism than theology. Theologically, as a general rule I would fit better in a denomination quite a bit further to the left, and closer to the Catholic tradition. I really am a closet Episcopalian. My current congregation is a nice enough fit, but the denomination as a whole doesn’t really feel like home to me. When I moved to this church, I had decided that it was probably my last ministry in a Church of Christ. If I stay here 30 years and retire, that’s wonderful. But if not, I’m probably going to explore my options in the broader world.
On the other hand, I really don’t know that this much denomination switching is a good thing. It’s really helpful to be deeply grounded in a specific tradition, and I fear that it doesn’t do us a lot of good to be completely generic Christians. I’m glad that the acrimony of the denomination wars has been toned down, but there are some benefits to having distinctive traditions with their own peculiar strengths working alongside each other. Lowest common denominator Christianity doesn’t make for good formation.