During 2013, another 89 congregations and approximately 9,000 members joined the EPC. That gives the denomination 507 churches and approximately 140,000 members since it was formed more than 30 years ago.
The denomination has seen considerable growth in the last six years. Since 2007, the EPC has added 325 congregations, raising its number of churches from 182 to 507. Considering the number of churches that have applied for acceptance into the EPC and others that still may be in the discernment process, it’s likely that the denomination will have tripled in size in just seven years at some point in 2014.
“We’ve been growing rapidly since 2007, and we’re very pleased with the way our presbyteries have equipped, examined and received churches and ministers,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jeremiah, stated clerk of the EPC, adding that denomination holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith and has a very high view of the authority of God’s Word. “I think we have a clear, positive sense of identity as a family of Presbyterian, Reformed, evangelical churches. I think churches that want to commit to that same DNA are very interested in us.”
The EPC added a 12th presbytery during the 2013 General Assembly to help facilitate the acceptance of churches to the denomination. Great Plains Presbytery will have its inaugural meeting Feb. 21-22 in Tulsa, Okla.
As of Jan. 22, the EPC was represented by churches in 44 states. The greatest concentration of those congregations was in Pennsylvania (52) and North Carolina (46). There are 28 EPC congregations in Tennessee, while California and Ohio have 27 each.
Jeremiah pointed out that the majority of churches joining the denomination in 2013 hailed from western Pennsylvania, North Carolina and the West Coast.
PCUSA still has highest membership
The EPC’s growth in membership (churches and individuals) has been rapid in recent years, but the Presbyterian Church (USA) remains the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States.
According to information from the PCUSA, there were 1,849,496 members at the end of 2012 in 10,262 congregations. That’s a loss of 102,791 members and 204 congregations from the 2011 data. Membership totals for 2013 will be released later this spring.
The denomination’s membership has seen a steady decline over the last decade. In 2002, the PCUSA reported 2,451,969 members, so the current membership reflects a net loss of 602,473 members, or about 24.6 percent, over the last 10 years. There were 11,097 congregations in 2002, 835 more than in 2012.
The EPC’s beginnings
The EPC, headquartered in Livonia, Mich., formed in 1981 from mainline Presbyterian denominations like the United Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church in the United States after leaders of the new Reformed denomination became distressed by liberalism creeping into the denominations.
The formation of the EPC created a denomination that took heed of the words of Scripture, the theology of historic confessions of the faith and the evangelical fervor of Presbyterian founders.
It started with 12 churches as part of the denomination, which touts the motto of “In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity; Truth in Love.”
A good match to meet the mission
Jeremiah pointed out that it is important that prospective congregations and pastors seeking admission to the denomination are a positive match with the EPC.
“If a church and pastor are looking for a denominational home, we want them to feel called by God to be part of the EPC,” Jeremiah said, adding that it is not just a safe haven from the ills congregations feel they are confronted with in the PCUSA.
“Churches that choose to depart a denomination clearly have a reason to depart, but we are concerned in the EPC that they be committed to being part of what we are,” he continued. “We recognize some churches struggle with a dismissal process and need some time for rest and healing. But just joining our denomination is not the end of the story. We are not to be perceived as just a place of safety and rest. Joining the EPC means getting on with it, doing what we’re called to do. We’re going to mobilize our larger church for the mission our Lord Jesus has for us.”
Simply put, that’s embracing and working toward the missional focus of the Great Commission, moving from transfer growth to transformation growth within the denomination. That’s what Jeremiah sees in the future for the EPC.
“We are working to mobilize for missions – community, country and world,” he explained. “The transfer growth is coming to an end. That’s growth but not the type we truly seek. We want people who are willing to give their lives as servants of Christ. We’re focused on transformation growth, how we can be used by the Lord to bring about change and redeem lives. “
That being said, Jeremiah does not anticipate the same kind of growth for the denomination this year as it has experienced over the last six, even though there will be churches that join the EPC.
“I’ll be surprised if we see as many (additions) in 2014 as we have had the last two years (about 150),” he said. “I get a sense that the distinctness in the EPC may not be as attractive as it has been from 2007-2013. But our mission is about lives transformed by the Holy Spirit. That mission is about kingdom growth. We’re mobilizing for missions, moving from that transfer growth to transformation growth.”