Clergy engaging in denominational switching in unstable church environment

Denominational switching has long been fairly common among Protestant lay people, but more recently the trend is also evident among clergy. A report in Baptist News Global (June 19) finds that clergy, especially in the moderate and liberal offshoots of the Southern Baptist Convention, such as the Alliance for Baptists, have searched for greener pastures in more liberal denominations, such as the United Church of Christ. “Experts report a growing trend of denominational swapping among clergy,” writes Jeff Brumley. Baptist historian Bill Leonard notes that the trend is not completely new, as there have been notable instances throughout church history of clergy transitioning to other denominations, but he believes such switching is picking up, driven by economic, social and theological considerations, such as promoting women in ministry and LGBTQ inclusion. “As denominations have declined and become more rigid and doctrinaire, people have gone looking for opportunities in denominations that seem more compatible,” Leonard says. He adds that there are also generational shifts. “This generation is looking around,” he says. “More people are open to [switching] in part because younger generations of ministers weren’t necessarily raised in the old denominational loyalty.”

Denominational switching is taking place particularly among women ministers and church leaders; anecdotal evidence suggests female ministers are leaving moderate Baptist churches in significant numbers, Brumley writes. “Based on conversations I have had, I would say Baptists…(Southern, CBF, American) have lost hundreds if not thousands of women ministers in the past 40 years,” said Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. Aside from women and Baptists, such departures are said to be flourishing across multiple denominations. “I would say it is much more frequent now than it was 10 years ago, whether it’s leaving the Baptist church or someone coming into the Baptist church,” says William Vanderbloemen, founder and CEO of Vanderbloemen, an agency that conducts executive pastor searches for churches. He adds that religious organizations are increasingly searching outside traditional circles for qualified pastoral leadership, as it becomes “harder and harder to say we have to have someone from our own family.” Differences in denominational style, theological bent and priorities can be a challenge for switchers. One switcher clergyperson, Alan Rudnick, an American Baptist minister, served a Presbyterian church during his time in seminary and toward the end of his studies was contacted about an opportunity at a United Methodist congregation by a recruiter who he called a “religious headhunter.” Rudnick said that today’s church climate made it more necessary for clergy to be aware of opportunities outside of their current denominational contexts. “Churches are declining and closing,” he said. “To stay within one’s own denomination can be very self-limiting.”

(Baptist News Global,