(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). Most congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) are small, but most Presbyterians attend larger churches. About two-thirds of those preparing to enter ministry – candidates and inquirers in the PCUSA – come from churches with at least 300 members, which means they may have little or no experience of life in a small congregation.
Just under 15 percent of small PCUSA congregations – those with 50 members or fewer – are served by a minister who participates in the Board of Pensions benefits plan, which typically means that person is in full-time ministry. But most Presbyterians (about 70 percent) attend churches with 151 members or more, and typically those congregations are served by at least one full-time, seminary-trained pastor.
The first plenary session of the Mid Council Leaders Gathering, being held Oct. 15-17 in St. Louis, focused on congregational realities – dashing through a flurry of information about trends in the denomination and life on the ground. The gathering is being co-sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly and the Board of Pensions – it replaces what used to be called the Fall Polity Conference – and it’s drawn about 350 people for training and opportunities for connection.
During that first plenary Oct. 15, the speakers offered information and opportunities for discussion – but refrained from offering much interpretation.
“The numbers are what the numbers are,” but individual Presbyterians may view them differently, said Timothy Cargal, an assistant stated clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, responsible for overseeing preparation for ministry.
“It’s easy to lament the past instead of to celebrate what we have,” said Kris Valerius, an assistant stated clerk for the Office of the General Assembly with responsibility for denominational rolls and statistics. “We should be celebrating what we have, because we have an abundance at our fingertips.”
Membership size. Valerius traced trends in the membership size of congregations for a decade, from 2006 to 2016. While the number of PCUSA congregations overall declined during that time, the balance between smaller congregations and larger ones did not change a lot, she said.
Most congregations are small:
- 150 members or less: 62 percent in 2006; 72 percent in 2016.
- 151 to 600 members: 32 percent in 2006; 24 percent in 2016.
- 601 members or more: 6 percent in 2006; 4 percent in 2016.
In 2006, the average PCUSA congregation had 207 members; the median membership was 105.
In 2016, the average PCUSA congregation had 157 members; the median was 78.
Why are the PCUSA leaders creating a hostile atmosphere? You speak about white Presbyterians as if mom and dad are talking at the dinner table about the children who are sitting there, as if they aren’t there. You create a scenario which is not true. In our church and when we feed the homeless and minister, everyone is welcome. You make it sound like if we don’t want to charge on out and join Black Lives Matter and feel ashamed of ourselves for innate racism that we are lying and unworthy. In essence, you create the very picture which you accuse others of perpetrating. Why would I want to stay in such an organization which accuses me of the very racism and shame of which you speak? Shame on you, pastor.
If there is one group of the Administrative State PCUSA that should be most concerned over the general decline of all things PCUSA. It should be the Board of Pensions. In simple terms, they need churches and clergy as full dues paying entities now, today. The Board as well as Presbyteries operate on a business model that has not changed all that much for the post war 1940s. That clergy more of less have 40 or so year careers in same line of work, church pastors, and are in a continual relationship to the Board. In essence paying more into the system than goods or services they take out. That how insurance and classic pension plans work.
The reality of 2017 is that by any analysis of age, risk-pool health factors, mortality tables of its membership, the out decades of 2030-2050 are catastrophic for the Board in terms of obligations assumed verses cash flow in from either a collapsed church base or clergy who have little to no relationship to the Board. Presbyteries by and large feed this death spiral but minimum terms of call policies price churches and clergy out of what the market will bear for their labors.
As the Board realizes I am sure. At some point in time numbers have consequences, policies decisions have consequences, mismanagement by an ossified OGA/PMA/Louisville kleptocracy has consequences. I think its membership base is about to find out.
With the greater majority of our churches at a 100 or less and those beyond such a number not adding to their numbers consistently, it is imperative that seminary graduates develop and hone their skills for evangelism, apologetics and church development. Small group dynamics, Christian education and basic ministries for making disciples are a must on all fronts. It is not enough to be a worshipping community but a mission outpost in a culture that has lost its way in a material polytheism. It will not be easy but you best know what you are doing when you wear the mantle of an ordained servant of Jesus Christ.
No matter which way you slice the data, the direction remains downhill. I guess that’s why leadership is celebrating? We’re winning the race to see which denomination gets to 500K members first!?!?
The numbers are going to have real consequences very VERY shortly. Already presbyteries are having trouble filling the pulpits of these smaller congregations with newly minted suburban-big church-type graduates who, for all of their fervor for “social justice” and “transformation,” and “servant leadership” really don’t see themselves as servants in rural congregations of fewer than 50 members.
Memo to Ms Valeirus: Based on the words of the Almighty to Moses at the end of his life, I leave it to you to decide if the Almighty, Who would punish a leader as outstanding as Moses for a failure of breaking faith, will somehow give the PCUSA and its leadership a pass for their faithlessness? I leave this question with you: does the present state of the PCUSA and the overall decline of American Mainline churches sound like effective leadership and are you willing to say proudly of such leadership, ‘there is no leadership like this?!’