Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Catastrophic Losses

The number of active members in the PCUSA has been in a freefall since the membership of its predecessor denominations peaked in 1965 with 4,254,597 active members. On December 31, 2003, the church had 2,405,311 active members. That is a loss of 1,849,286 members. It is a 43.46% membership loss!

Imagine what would happen if a business had such catastrophic losses. Management would be fired if Proctor and Gamble had a decrease in revenue by 43%. Heads would roll if a pro football team had an attendance drop of 43%. The stock holders of corporations would be outraged. Management would be fired. New blood would be brought in to bring about change. Unfortunately, the PCUSA isn’t run like a business. For the leadership of the PCUSA it is business as usual! Who cares if we lose approximately 40,0000 members each year?

The 2007 & 2008 budgets for the denomination were discussed at the most recent General Assembly Council meeting. The council was told that the projected membership loss for 2007 is 66,000 members. The projected loss for 2008 is 85,000 members! When combined with the projected losses for 2005 and 2006, the PCUSA is expected to lose 10% of its membership from 2005 – 2008 (not counting any losses due to people leaving over the TTF report).

The reasons people are leaving are many and complex. Conservatives will say that people are leaving due to the liberal positions of the General Assembly. Progressives (the PC terms for the theologically liberal wing of the denomination) say it is because of the continued failure to fully include all church members in the life and governance of the Church. One reason for membership loss that is indisputable is the aging of our church members—people are dying!

The time for action is NOW! Is there any logical reason to believe that the PCUSA will lose less than 85,000+ members per year after 2008? It has been said that a definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I truly believe that God could intercede and bring about different results, but he hasn’t!

It is time for the PCUSA to look at new paradigms of ministry and being a church. Here are but a few of the possibilities (listed in no particular order):

1. Totally revamp the way pastors are trained. If the seminaries won’t change, then tuff… form new pastor training centers. Many, if not most, seminary professors are locked into a higher education model that does not resonate in the local church. Pastors are trained to write papers. Few have the skills to lead a congregation in spiritual and numerical growth. My hunch is that most seminary students have never led a person to receive Jesus as Lord and savior. It is time to throw out our current seminary system and develop new models for selecting and training pastors.

2. Put a time limit on how long a person can serve as a General Assembly staff person. After working for the General Assembly for six years they should be required to have no contact with the General Assembly agencies and staff for at least one year (just like when a pastor leaves his/her current call). After a total of working twelve years with the General Assembly they should be permanently banned from ever serving at that level again. This would ensure that new blood, ideas and models would constantly flow into the system.

3. The theological “fighting” will not stop until there are two separate denomination. Oil and water do not mix! The root of most of the denominations disagreements begins with disagreements in Biblical interpretation. I am not naïve enough to believe that there will be no disagreements in the new denomination. They will be fewer and less volatile; after all, the members will be coming from the same general direction in terms of Biblical interpretation.

4. Make all per capita optional. If General Assembly, Synods or Presbyteries are not valued and meeting the needs of the church then we shouldn’t force churches to pay for them. Let me give you one example. Almost every, if not every, church in my presbytery that is either growing or staying the same in membership has some type of contemporary worship experience or blended worship. Until recently, the local church, which hosted presbytery, was in charge of the worship at that particular meeting. We met at one of our fairly large churches and the presbytery worship service was conducted in a contemporary style. From the complains that streamed in following the meeting you would have thought that some heretical action must have taken place. Shortly there after, the church I serve hosted presbytery. We led a truly blended worship service with worship team and choir. Once again the complaints flowed in. Our presbytery now has a new worship policy that does not allow the local church to have that type of control of the presbytery worship service. Governing bodies (G.A., synods & presbyteries) would be more responsive to the local congregations if per capita was optional.

5. Plant more church. Change the way we start new churches. Encourage our largest church to have satellite campuses in neighboring communities. Let the founding church have oversight of the new church.

6. Don’t give any $$ to keep a dying church alive unless it is the only church in town.

7. Have “ecumenical” be truly ecumenical. Work with the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene, independent churches and others.

These are just a few possible new paradigms. What new ideas do you have?


At 8:22 PM , Blogger Apostle John said...

While listing coaches, CEOs and such, why not add a Messiah? In John's Gospel, chapter 6, Jesus pretty much loses all of his followers and is down to practically nothing.

Is the goal love and truth, or simply marketing a product?

At 6:39 AM , Blogger Pastor Lance said...

True... the crowds left is Jesus' final year of ministry. He was crucified (died) and his faithful remnant carried on his ministry.

Numbers are important! Read through the Book of Acts. Notice the numerous times that Luke tells how many people were coming to faith. This doesn't mean that the "numbers" are the most important part of the message. They are one part of the picture.

The "goal" is found in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

As to the marketing... the best marketing is word of mouth. Bringing your friends and neighbors. Most churches grow when the people there are growing in their faith and are so excited about their faith that they invite people to church. That's how Willow Creek, Saddleback, Trinity Presbyterian in Satellite Beach (Florida), Chapel Hill Presbyterian in Gig Harbor (Washington)grew.


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