Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who Has Lost Members?

Yesterday I commented on the eleven issues/questions that the gathering of the GAC, synod and presbytery executives would be talking about. Today I would like to take a closer look at just one of the items: “The congregational dilemma — what is job one? (‘The denomination has not lost members; local congregations have lost members.’)” [Note: the parenthetical comment was a part of the original document]

This is the “smoking gun” of the disconnect between denominational HQ and congregations. It is garbage like this that makes it difficult to stay in this denomination.

Have local congregations lost members? You had better believe it! There are lots of reasons for this membership loss. We are an aging denomination—people die. That accounts for some of our losses. We are an aging denomination—people leave with their children to attend a church with more to offer for children’s and youth ministries. That accounts for some of our losses. People stop going to church—period. That accounts for some of our losses. People go to other churches due to poor theology of the local Presbyterian pastor (I know of a church that lost quite a few members for this reason—they left for the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church). That accounts for some of our losses. People stop going to church because sexually active GLBT persons are being ordained. That accounts for some of our losses. People stop going to church because we do not open the doors to the ordination of sexually active GLBT persons. That accounts to some of our losses. People leave the church because their local church only sings traditional hymns. That accounts for some of our losses. People leave the church because their church now sings a few contemporary songs in worship. That accounts for some of our losses. Some people stop attending church because Sunday is the only day they can sleep in. That accounts for some of our losses. People are leaving rural communities for the jobs in urban areas. This accounts for some of the membership losses. Do you get the picture? There are lots of reasons why our congregations are experiencing membership losses.

One other reason that people leave our local congregations is the PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. What happens at the national level affects the local congregation. Polls show that the vast majority of local Presbyterians do not want the ordination of sexually active GLBT persons, and yet, it keeps getting shoved down the church’s throat. The 2004 vote to withdraw investments from certain companies doing business with Israel angered VAST numbers of local Presbyterians. The Horizon’s study angered Bible-believing Presbyterians. The 9/11 book angered Presbyterians. Louisville is silent. “Protestor Rick” could cause a person to leave a local church. As a high ranking PCUSA official he must put aside his person ideas for the greater good of the PCUSA. There are many in our churches who do not like the fact that he would knowingly do something that would anger scores of Presbyterians. To put it simply, part of the membership loss is due to the Presbyterian Church.

Oh, by the way—since the members of Evergreen Presbyterian Church appear to not belong to the Presbyterian Church I might be suggesting to our session that we not send in our GA per capita. Since “they” do not believe that the local church members are members of the “denomination” they do not deserve even one penny that comes in to the local church!

Now that I bring up the $$$ issue the national folks will say that the denomination has indeed lost members. They don’t want to take the blame for our local losses but they surely want to take a part of the tithes and offerings that come in to our local churches!


At 10:14 AM , Anonymous Kyle said...

Withholding GA per Capita, yet re-directing mission funds directly to missionaries in the field, has been a popular idea for showing discontent (or outrage) to Louisville. We just have to get the presbytery to pass an overture stating that they won't try to make up the difference in their giving. I see it happening in other presbyteries. Not sure if it would happen here.

Starve them (Louisville not missionaries) into listening.

At 7:09 PM , Anonymous Larry said...

A couple of points:

1. If your presbytery is one of those that make up the per capita not paid by the churches, then your church needs to send your presbytery a message. Namely, withhold any and all contributions to the presbytery. We did it in our presbytery and since then the presbytery only sends on to GA the per capita it receives from the churches.

2. On members leaving. The continued drop in membership is more a factor of people NOT joining a PCUSA church than it is because current members are leaving. For the past 10 years the number of members leaving has held fairly steady at 175,000 per year. What has changed in the past ten years is the number of people joining. The number of people joining has dropped from 155,000 to 125,000 in 2005. The many negative public relations, well decribed by Lance, seems to scare away potential members more than it causes current members to leave.

At 7:19 PM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Picking up on larry's second point, my husband has often observed that the PCUSA is a "very weak franchise" for our area (Houston) because of the perception that it is a very liberal denomination and most people around here are very conservative.

If someone is church shopping, and has no previous ties to the PCUSA, then an individual church has to be very appealing to overcome the image of the "franchise".

At 9:11 PM , Blogger PJ said...

In one church I used to be part of, at least one family left because of the conflict between their pro-life convictons and the aggressive PCUSA support of abortion rights.

I think some folk at the Presbytery decided that was the pastor's fault. A better pastor would have been able to interpret the PCUSA polcies and help people see how the policies really embrace and affirm everyone. So I guess it doesn't surprise me that LVL would think the membership loss is a local issue.


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