No matter where you go in this county, if you walk into a Wal-Mart or Target, you know you are in a Wal-Mart or Target. That is because these companies work very hard on their corporate identity and the uniformity of their stores helps maintain their identity, which is good for business.
Sadly, in most Christian denominations these days there is very little uniformity and I think this lack of uniformity has led to a lack of identity. For example, in my denomination, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, if you walk into one of our congregations on a given Sunday you simply don’t know what you are going to find. One Sunday you could find yourself in a formal, liturgical church complete with clergy robes, altar, pulpit and lectern, people bowing and making the sign of the cross. And the next Sunday you could find yourself in a modern non-liturgical church complete with a praise band and a pastor in blue jeans.
This is very different from what our denominational churches were like just 50 years ago. Back then there was a high degree of uniformity; we all used the same hymnal and the same orders of service and many of our church buildings looked alike. But over the years, with the arrival of new hymnals and new styles of music and architecture our churches became very diverse.
Now a trained theologian could participate in two completely different worship services and say, “Well, at least they have the same doctrine!” But I maintain that the average person is going to conclude that major differences exist between two churches with vastly different worship experiences.
I know that the church is not a business but every organization that wants to have a clear identity must strive to maintain a high degree of uniformity. Not all Wal-Mart and Target stores are identical but they have enough uniformity that the average person can easily identify them.
The question then becomes, who decides on the uniform practices that all of the congregations in a denomination are going to follow to maintain their denominational identity? Most Protestant denominations shy away from the hierarchical, top-down structure of Roman Catholicism. Yet who can argue that most Catholic churches are still very similar and therefore have a clear identity?
The ideal situation would be for Protestant denominations to work more diligently on crafting their own identity and then developing the best forms of worship, design and practice that support that identity.