Re-inventing the Denomination

Indiana Denomination moves from central control back to “Connectional” structure


Denominations tend toward centralization.  Denominations often start out as a loosely structured and connectional then gradually develop into centralized control and bureaucracy.   I know this—I saw the reasons.  Over 24 years in my own denominational leadership I noted that every time we had a meeting with district or local people they always “expected more” from their denomination—programs, communication pieces, help, presence.  When local and district people meet with denominational officials they usually offer something they expect their leaders “to do something about.”  In this they are like citizens of the USA who give scant praise for national leaders who “do less and cost less” but generally elect to office politicians who “do things for us.”  Thus over tie denominations gradually become more centralized and exact higher “taxes” from the local church to support the increasing expectations of the people.  Hardly ever does a denomination reverse this trend. Until recently, that is.


The United Brethren in Christ denomination with headquarters in Huntington, Indiana is doing just that—reversing their centralized government back into a connectional system.  They are right now in the midst of this risky/bold restructuring of their 215 churches that can only be considered “a reinvention of their denomination.”  This action will be raising dust across the board since many denominations are looking at restructuring in one way or another in the 21st century.  Some are calling for a more connectional approach to denominations—turning denominations into something more like the Willow Creek Association.  The spate of sexual abuse suits is feeding some of this: in a centralized denomination when one pastor abuses a child the victim can sure “all the way to the top” trying to tap into the resources of districts and denominations. The UBIC is totally redesigning a formerly centralized denomination where “the denomination owns the property” into a connectional denomination that is a whole different pattern.  Here is a summary of the deatails:


Districts/conferences replaced by “clusters”

The UBIC has eliminated their “annual conferences “ (what many denomination’s call “districts.” They are being replaced by “clusters” of similarly interested churches no matter the geography—thus there could be a cluster of mega-churches, rural churches, inner-city churches, church plants or whatever other common needs and interests emerge in the future. The pastors and local church leaders decide which cluster they want to join and they can drop out and join another cluster in the future according to need.  Each cluster of 5-10 churches determines its own focus as they work together to fulfill the great commission. Each cluster suggests its own leader to the U.S. Bishop who makes the final appointment of the “cluster leader.”

Tax Rate And Routing

The “tax rate is reduced to 3.5% of local church income (income less missions and building fund) directly to the UBIC U. S. Headquarters skipping the routing through a district or cluster. The local church chooses where to send their missions support which is not included in the denominational “tax.” Educational support is also not “taxed” and the local church is free to sent their money directly to the denominational college,  
Huntington University though the institution also gets a piece of the Headquarters 3.5% too.

Property Given Back To Local Church

Formerly (like many denominations) though there were local “trustees”  the actual ownership of local church property was in the hands of the denomination.  In a radical shift this denomination is “giving back the property to those who paid for it in the first place.”


Doctrinal Stability & “the Covenant.”
So how do they plan to retain doctrinally purity and stability? Each church connected with the UBIC denomination is asked to sign an annual “covenant every two years affirming its stance. A church who does not wish to any longer “sign the covenant” is free to go its own way and leave the denomination.

Who did this?

Such a restructuring is unlikely to ever “come from the grass roots” in a denomination.  Ideas that melt down centralized control or taxes generally get squashed long before they get to the proper legislative bodies.  So how did the UBIC get such a radical restructuring through?  It came from the top.  Paul Hirschy, the US Bishop, called a special meeting of the General Board of Administration to determine the future direction of the denomination. Bishop Hirschy presented some recommendations to get the discussion started and after extensive consideration the General Board   passed some of the key issues and appointed two teams to further develop the details. The details were then presented to the delegates of the General Conference who made the final decisions.  PRESTO—they totally reinvented their denomination.  (As the new plan went into effect Bishop Paul Hirschy stepped aside.)

Click here to see the slimmed down new UBIC Discipline.


Keith Drury

December 11, 2005


So, what do you think about this kind of denominational restructuring?  Is it a good thing? Bad?  What problems do you see with it?  Advantages? Is it the wave of the future or merely deconstructing something good?  What’s your opinion?


Click here to comment or read others’ comments on this article