Dear Reverend J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the PCUSA,
I would be remiss not to begin this letter by thanking you for your service to God’s Kingdom and to the Presbyterian Church (USA). You are in a leadership position during a time of much transition and change. I lift you up in prayer as you navigate through the various challenges of your role.
I have felt the need to write to you after the publication of the 2016 Summaries of Statistics – Comparative Summaries, the press release on the church’s web site, and your own statement, ‘We are not dying. We are reforming.’
I am a long-standing member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for some time I have been troubled by the direction of the denomination. In many ways, I feel like a stranger within my own home. I continue to struggle, reflect and pray about my continued involvement with the church.
I have taken the 2016 Summaries of Statistics– Comparative Summaries report and looked at additional information going back to 2005. The data is striking, scary, saddening, and alarming. You state, “We are not dying. We are reforming.” Reforming to what?
I lead a sales team. My company is undergoing major changes as consumers switch from traditional “brick and mortar” purchases to buying products on-line. Like the Presbyterian Church membership, my company is seeing a declining retail customer base. As you have challenged the denomination to look to immigrants as full members of the Presbyterian Church, my company seeks to find new avenues to sell our products in different ways. However, just as importantly, a second focus of my company’s strategy is to make sure we are going above and beyond with customer service to keep our existing clients. With all due respect, I do not see the Presbyterian Church (USA) focusing on keeping existing membership.
In a review of the PCUSA data from 2005 to 2016 – looking at trends and not isolating a single year:
- Membership loss is accelerating, not as you state, “slowing down” [See the graphic at the top of the page.]
- We are headed to a major leadership gap as our “net Minister” loss has seen a significant jump the last 5 years [See Image 2]
- Our “Membership Gains” are decreasing at an increasing rate, endangering our future as we are headed to less than 10,000 people per year under the age of 17 added to the church [See Image 3]
I have attached the details [graphics included in this post] to help provide additional context.
Reverend Nelson, I agree with you that our denomination needs adopt a strategy to reach out to all people around us and invite them into the church. However, equally and even more importantly, the PCUSA needs to develop a strategy to keep members. Until there are compelling reasons why individuals should express their faith in God through Presbyterian polity, we will continue to witness this exodus. You may be able to tout a year here or a year there showing a slowdown in membership decline, but that will be tied to less people to count, not a change in the underlying movements.
At my employer, we are “reaching forward” – seeking new companies to partner with and to service. At the same time, we are also “reaching back” – engaging those customers who have left, seeking the meaning of their departure and inviting them back to participate with our products.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to do some serious “reaching back” to understand why people have left and to better understand how keep congregants and to introduce new members to the rich and unique history of the PCUSA.
Again, thank you for your leadership and many Blessings,
Elder, First Presbyterian Church