The Difference Between Independents and Mainlines and Its Implications
By: Bill Easum
Over the last 25 years, I’ve consulted with over 700 churches in over 40 denominations. Early on, the churches were mostly Mainline; the last few years, they are more Independent than Mainline. As the transition has unfolded, many things have become clear as to why Independent churches are far outstripping Mainline churches when it comes to numerical growth.
The differences run all the way from theological to tactical. So, let me set out the differences I see, and maybe it will give you some ideas as to what you might be able to pull off in your church. Oh, one more thing – the Mainline churches that are growing are doing some or all of the following, also.
As you read my comparisons, keep in mind that I was a Mainline pastor for 30 years, with 24 of them in the same church, before starting my consulting ministry, so my comments about Mainline churches are not meant to belittle or harm but to instruct.
Most Independent churches exist to transform individuals and, in some cases, the creation; most Mainline churches exist to conform to the theology or polity of their denominational. It is rare for a Mainline church to have conversions, much less measure their statistics.
For example, I’m working with an Independent church that just sent me their vital statistics for the year. Along with worship and finances, they were tracking first and second time visitors, new believers, and baptisms. I’ve seldom seen new believers tracked by a Mainline church. And even baptisms, if they are tracked, are mostly infants of existing church members.
So, the next time you wonder why Independents churches are growing, you now know the answer: because they exist to grow. They know their bottom line. Mainline churches don’t exist to grow and few know their bottom line, other than meeting the budget.
Mainline pastors, on the other hand, have to get permission before they take action, and, many times, the permission must come from more than one committee and board. Because they have to ask for permission, they have to spend enormous amounts of time “securing the votes” before taking it before a board for permission. This method makes radical change much more difficult because it’s hard to get a majority vote on anything radical in most Mainline churches. This method is fatal in a rapidly changing world like today.
Most Mainline churches, at best, give spiritual authority to their pastor as long as it doesn’t affect how things are done administratively, and, at worst, they don’t give either spiritual or administrative authority to the pastor. All they want from the pastor is to take care of them and fulfill their every wish. In most Independent churches, the outside, lost world is the center of attention; in most Mainline churches, the members are the center of attention.
I was blown away at the end of one of my seminars where I talked a little bit about reducing or doing away with most committees when a gray-haired grandmother approached me with this question: “If we eliminate committees, how we will know who is faithful or not?” She was seriously equating sitting on a committee with commitment.
Let’s take all of this further. I was talking with an Independent church planter I’m coaching when I learned that he had personally lead to Christ almost all of the 350 that attended his church on Sunday. Now compare that with the vast majority of Mainline church plants – the vast majority of the people who attend are church transplants, and if you ask the Mainline church planter how many of those people he or she had lead to Christ, it is not unusual to get the following reply – zero.
Mainline churches wishing to grow need to:
• Have an all-consuming passion for bringing the lost to Christ.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why Independents are growing and why Mainliners aren’t. The question is, “Do Mainliners have enough humility to admit they have been going down the wrong trail for decades and learn from the Independents?” That is the burning question of our time for Mainliners.
If you would like to explore this article more, contact me at email@example.com.
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.