“Inherited Church” is a term for describing established, existing forms of Church. The term can be used to describe a historical stream of the Church tradition (such as an inherited Wesleyan church or an inherited Anabaptist Church), a formal denomination (such as an inherited United Methodist or Southern Baptist church) or even an individual local congregation.
Inherited churches pass on traditions, such as worship styles and theological foci, processes, and gathering styles. These traditions were often developed for particular historical and geographical contexts that may or may not match the needs and culture of the present day congregation. Inherited churches often pass on property, resources and even older church members to new generations leaders and members.
According to author Randall Adams of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, the concept of “inherited church” can be compared to the concept of inherited wealth. “Like inherited wealth, the inherited church can live in the afterglow and off the resources accumulated from previous generations. In both cases, with wealth and church, the tendency is for these accumulated resources to dissipate, dwindle and decline…Thus, the challenge for the inherited church is to rekindle the urgency and spiritual energy that is always present in a growing church… The pioneering spirit present in the beginning of a church must be recaptured for that church to resume growth.”
Inherited Churches are often contrasted to Fresh Expressions of Church, which strive to find new forms that are contextually native to a new Church. However, the two should be seen as working together for God’s mission. Specifically, Inherited Churches bring to the table:
- The opportunity to Disciple Intentionally, that is, guide existing disciples into paths where they make disciples
- Impart the richness and depth and the Christian tradition, deepening theology and sharing crucial insights for Fresh Expressions
- Equip and support pioneering leaders for mission who might be lonely or ill equipped on their own