I'm taking a quick blog series break here to ask one important question: what is the primary factor that makes a church institutional?
I've written previously on several occasions about a sort of unholy trinity that forms the backbone of institutional church life. These three are expensive/special church buildings, salaried clergy, and worship services/ceremonies. Almost all institutional churches have some form of these three in place. They may go by different names, of course, but at a substantive level they are the same.
Other components of the church institution are also extremely common: budgets, fund raising, youth groups, committees, tithes and offerings, Sunday School, bulletins, nurseries, church signs, websites, etc.
Keeping all this in mind, what do you believe is the one main thing that makes the institution in fact the institution?
I'll tell you my answer: salaried clergy.
Of all the various parts that make the church institution what it is, the most significant is full-time clergy who dominate the life of the fellowship. While scripture describes an active body where each part is important, the institution gives us a drowsy group put to sleep by pastors who do almost everything. If you attend almost any church gathering it is the salaried clergy who stand front and center. They expect to do this, and the folks in the pews expect it, too. It's much of the reason pastors/priests receive paychecks.
Since the clergy are paid, they need something to do. Go ahead and ask institutional believers what their pastor's most important task is. Most will respond by saying preaching. By this they mean giving a 30 minute lecture once or twice on Sundays. This lecture requires both a special building and a ceremony. It also demands that the people sit quietly and obediently.
If church families desire to avoid institutionalization what they must do is minimize the role of the clergy. One means of accomplishing this is simply to not pay anybody. If you remove the paycheck, then everyone is forced to become more active. This has the potential to bring about great vibrancy within the fellowship. I highly recommend it.