It’s a common storyline
these days that denominations are becoming less and less important -- especially among Protestants. Fewer church-goers readily identify as Baptist or Presbyterian or Lutheran, choosing instead to attend churches that meet very personal expectations. Doctrine is usually subordinate to a good band or a great youth program. The individual worshiper may never even see the denominational distinctions that lie under the surface.

Denominations, however, are far from irrelevant. For one thing, they've pooled church resources for generations, and they've used these resources to support clergy, coordinate missionary efforts, and distribute emergency aid. Denominations have also traditionally helped to fund colleges and seminaries.

But as enrollment at smaller private colleges and seminaries has flatlined, students have typically been unimpressed by denominational affiliation, which has created an opportunity for schools to reach beyond traditional student bases. A number of schools have loosened ties with their denomination in order to expand fundraising and attract more students. In many cases, this has involved merging schools.

A recent article in Christianity Today showcases a new three-part study from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) that examines what happens to schools when they weaken denomination ties. While some students welcome a broader, less sectarian Christian education, others are concerned that loosening church ties leaves schools without accountability to a specific Christian community.

Of course, Christian colleges and seminaries are two very different institutions. Have these changes attracted a wider base of students for seminaries? Are denominations still interested in funding a school when they have less influence? Is this offset by the school being more attractive to more donors? Are board members concerned about the school remaining faithful to a core theological education?

I am curious to know how recent mergers are playing out for schools in our community of theological education.