By Mark A. Taylor
Will the Restoration Movement* stay strong if its institutions continue to struggle?
The question is more than academic in a time when more than one influential ministry has disappeared or is laboring to survive.
And in an era characterized by massive change on every front—technology, education, media, transportation, and economic and political norms—we are no longer shocked when one of our institutions closes its doors. Change is the order of the day.
Furthermore, many of our ministries still serving could not continue with support from our fellowship alone.
For example, our two national conferences, while still attracting a crowd mainly from our churches, resemble general Evangelical gatherings: consider their programming; look at their list of exhibitors.
Arguably the most vibrant national meeting among us is Exponential, but its speakers and attendees come from all kinds of Bible-believing congregations certainly not attracted to Exponential because of its Christian church roots.
This is most true with our colleges. A few years ago we started asking the schools reporting to CHRISTIAN STANDARD to share what percentage of their student body has roots in Stone-Campbell congregations. Among the 28 schools on last year’s chart, 7 said 25 percent or fewer of their students were from Christian churches or churches of Christ. For 12 schools, the figure was 50 percent or lower.
Is this good or bad, progress or retreat? What does it mean when “our” ministries look outside our fellowship for leadership and finances? Is our influence growing because we’ve broken out of the isolation that characterized an earlier day? Or is our influence threatened because we no longer hold up a distinctive voice and a unique plea? Are our institutions leading—or perhaps better stated, what kind of leadership are they exerting—when they’re forced to look for friends anywhere they can find them just so they can survive?
I suspect we could stage a lively debate around those questions, with passionate defenders of each side. Is it time to have that discussion?
As I said in this space last week, these are exciting times for Christian churches and churches of Christ. Across the country and around the world they’re demonstrating unparalleled progress in evangelism and creativity in outreach.
But the question remains: will that headway reflect the influence of a movement, our movement? Or should we be satisfied for individual schools and congregations and ministries to independently exert their influence with diminishing dependence on others sharing the same heritage?
*By “Restoration Movement” I mean the 5,000 to 6,000 independent Christian churches and churches of Christ occupying a central “stream” distinct from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the traditionally a cappella churches of Christ.