Statistics on PC USA Membership Loss 2008

Since the PC USA is where I hold my ordination as pastor, these statistics are of interest to me, and I know that many of the EvangelismCoach.org subscribers are in that same tribe.

Source: PC(USA) – Presbyterian News Service – PC(USA) records steepest membership loss since reunion in 1983.

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) fell by 69,381 in 2008, the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) has announced in its annual statistical report, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1960s.

Total membership of the denomination is now 2,140,165.

According to the Research Services office of the General Assembly Council (GAC), the 2008 decline was the PC(USA)’s largest numerical and percentage net membership loss since Presbyterian reunion in 1983.

Almost 104,000 people joined the PC(USA) last year, but that good news was more than offset by the 34,101 Presbyterians who died, the 34,340 who were members of the 25 congregations that left the PC(USA) for other denominations, and the staggering 104,428 who were removed from the rolls by their sessions without apparently joining any other church.

Can a positive spin be put on this?   The General Assembly Stated Clerk announces

Parsons insisted that “Presbyterians can be evangelists!”

“But we often stumble over the words. Can we not challenge one another to be able to answer these basic questions,” he said. “Why do I believe in God? Why do I go to church? Why do I go to that particular church?”

Fewer congregations were dissolved in 2008 than in 2007 — 65 vs. 71 the previous year. And 40 new churches were organized last year, 23 more than the previous year. The PC(USA) currently comprises 10,751 congregations.

This suggests the need for

Eric Hoey, in an additional statement wrote:

In a June 18 statement, the Rev. Eric Hoey, the GAC’s director of Evangelism and Church Growth,  . . . . . attributed the large number of new members, in part, to the “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” initiative that came out of the 218th General Assembly (2008).

“Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” created a groundswell of local and regional activity. The initiative challenged all levels of the church to acknowledge our decline and to commit to four areas of growth: evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and diversity,” Hoey said.

Presbyterian News Service has written a series of articles about congregations that are engaged in innovative outreach programs in order to Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide,’” he added.

Evangelism Where You Live – A Review Part III

evangelism where you liveI’ve been reading Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community and I think it is a must read book for pastors of churches seeking to engage its community.

See Part I of Evangelism Where You Live – A Review Part I

See Part II of Evangelism Where You Live – A Review Part II

This final section of Chapters 5 – 8 gets into the nuts and bolts of what this might look like in the local church.

CBSE involves a Christ follower who serves others out of his or her passion, using one’s spiritual gifts at connection points of need in the community to demonstrate the love of Jesus to others as a salt and light servant.  . . . .

Administratively, CBSE reduces the church’s events and ongoing programs to allow people to be deployed into their daily lives to exercise their passions and gifts. (73)

Chapter 5: Salt and Light Servants

The majority of current discipleship material seems to be focused on information, not so much on experiential transformation.  The idea was that better information and accumulated information would lead to spiritual transformation.

The authors have seen this descend into matters of personal preference, rallies around the latest Christian bestseller, and rabbit trails into the most effectively marketed latest trend .

However, they see a shift from information to experience.

A method that fosters experience to help shape a person’s spiritual formation.

Educational materials are connected with service in the community “as the context to live out the expression of a life in relationship to Christ.”

I have often noted and taught that I learn by doing.

In other businesses, I could study, study, study, but until I was actually doing, the study didn’t make sense.  Study lead to hypothesizing, thinking about 1000 what ifs.

But not until I got into people’s lives and talking with them 1-1 about their spiritual journey did any of the studies seems to start finding a purpose.

Perhaps a quote from Randy Pope captures this better in this illustration:

Much in the way that eating creates no appetite for exercise, so too, I have found that Bible study and prayer alone do not create mission oriented Christians.  But, just as exercise creates a desire for food and drink, mission related activities create an insatiable thirst and hunger to feed on God’s word (89).

The idea is deploy your church members to serve their community and that kind of relational context will spur personal growth.

Eating has never created in us a desire to exercise, but preparing to run 26.2 miles in about 4 hours definitely creates not only a desire, but a need to eat (89).

In the same way, service may very well be the missing factor in developing fully devoted followers of Christ.  Transformation happens in combination with information and experience.

Chapter 6: Connection Points

The subtitle focuses the chapter on Evangelism Training.  The authors have given lots of evangelism training over the years, from memorizing gospel scripts, to relational evangelism seminars, yet not seeing any statistical evidence of new believers.  The rare church had more than 5 new believers in a year after the seminar.

Church’s are beginning to ask “Why is training people on how to share their faith not resulting in new Christ followers?”

The authors claim that intentional community service is the missing ingredient.  The chief issue is that our church members have lost touch with genuine relationships with people far from God.

To fulfill the front half of the Great Commission the process will always begin with a Christ-follower connecting with someone far from God.  To lead someone into a personal relationship with Christ has little to do with whether someone has attended training and learned a model presentation to the Gospel (95).

Connecting Points

The chapter lays out how to find connection points with the local community, beginning with an inventory from Becoming a Contagious Christian, Hybels and Mittleberg:

  • People we know
  • People we used to know
  • People we would like to know.

I use a similar idea with Spheres of Influence.

The key for churches is to assist members in creating a context for connection, but it remains up to the individual member to connect.

The third group, people we would like to know, is where the role of community service comes into play.  Relationships develop best around a need the mutual relationship can meet.

Where is your church member passionate?  Where is their burden? Examples:

  • Single Moms?
  • Fatherless kids?
  • Teachers?
  • Firefighters?
  • Undercover FBI agents?
  • Little League?

Where are their gifts?  Administratively gifted folks can organize events or run leagues.  Mercy gifted folks can visit people.

We have come to realize that not assisting our church members to develop a connection point into an authentic relationship is simply not providing good leadership.

Chapter 7 and 8: Implementing CBSE

Chapter 7 and 8 map out how to make such philosophical changes in implementing Community Based servant evangelism.  The authors note that there are several books about systemically changing a congregation, and they note that their system works when followed.

The process is organic and leadership driven.

First four steps are for the pastor, the next two are are for the leadership, and the last 5 are how to make it public.

  • Pray and read the Bible
  • Church leadership must own the mission of “Love God and Love Others”
  • Must be totally supported by the Senior Pastor and or Lead Pastor
  • Enlist top / key church influencers
  • Enlist a CBSE champion
  • Enlist a CBSE leadership team
  • Design a plan
  • Provide training
  • Cast the vision to your church
  • Implement the plan
  • Evaluate all aspects and correct

This list may seem generic in terms of changing systems, but the chapters tease them out more fully.

A Pastor’s Personal Prayer life

It strikes me how a pastor’s personal relationship with God is the root of this change, not only the pastors, but so also the rest of the leadership.

In a 2007 review of surveys of pastors,

two hundred seventy (270 or 26%) of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.

Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons.

If the root of systemic change in a church is found in a pastor’s personal relationship with God, then how can churches give their pastors time to nurture that relationship?    From another study in the same report:

We found that 90% of pastors work more than 50 hours a week. One out of three pastors state that being in the ministry is clearly hazardous for their families. One out of three pastors felt totally burned out within the first five years of ministry.

Research from Crandall (see 5 phases of renewal from Turnaround and Beyond: A Hopeful Future for the Small Membership Church) indicates that personal renewal is the number one factor in successful turnaround in churches.

Research from Martha Gay Reese (Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism (Real Life Evangelism Series) elevates the importance of prayer for a congregation to pick up and maintain an evangelistic passion.

Order your copy

Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community from Amazon

Church Based Relational Evangelism

evangelism where you liveI’ve been reading Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community and I think it is a must read book for pastors of churches seeking to engage its community.

Over the next few days leading up to the Community Based Servant Evangelism Webinar, I’ll be pulling out a few themes.

What’s not working?

The authors ask:

Why Aren’t Our Efforts Producing Anything Other than More Work?

Think about all the evangelism training, all the conferences, new ideas, new books, new resources that have been offered in the last few years.

Pate looks at the statistics from his own denomination and notices no noticeable change in baptism statistics (which is a marker of growth in their Baptist tradition).

Of their 2100 Baptisms in 2003

  • 12% were Christ-followers not previously immersed.
  • 54% were children or grandchildren of members
  • 34% were individuals with no prior church connection.

Numerical statistics from their association note that their membership in relationship to their county decreased in its percentage from 4.3% to 1.9%

The church was not reaching people for Christ, in spite of all their efforts in evangelism training, programming, and lots of resources.

Church outreach programs, age-grouped bible studies, church-wide evangelism emphases and events have produced current results.

As a consultant earning a living from evangelism training, this bothered him.  Why is there no noticeable change even after all time and effort to do training and provide resources?

A philosophy of Ministry

The foundational drive of this book is to present a philosophy of ministry that should work it’s way into the DNA of a congregation.

A way of doing ministry in which Christ followers model, encourage, and equip others to be salt and light servants where they live . . . living out the great commandment and the great commission in our network of relationships in the marketplace and neighborhoods.

The key argument is:

The church must purposefully deploy people into the community, become friends of sinners, if Christ-followers are to live out the Great Commission.

It is relational evangelism to the core.

How is this different from other relational evangelism material?

Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community is different in that it seeks to figure out how relational evangelism can work in context a local congregation.  It’s not a curriculum, but a philosophy that can shape the culture of your church.

A lot of relational evangelism training curriculum is focused on individual — helping you develop relationship and then skills in sharing the gospel.  The authors refer to several, such as Just Walk Across the Room (or Just Walk Across the Room Video Curriculum)

Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community focuses on the implication of relational evangelism in the church DNA.

What happens to your programming?  What happens when your calendar is too full to spend time with unchurched people?

Example:

End of rope
Let me share an example from my own life.

I’ve been asked via email to conduct an evangelism training program for a local church.

The coordinator has asked to meet with me, so

FOR 5 MONTHS

we have been trying to arrange an in-person meeting time.

We have had at least 10 appointments set, and every time, this coordinator has canceled on me.

Every time — “something came up at the church”  “I have to be at the church” and so on.

He’s left me hanging.

No-shows, and canceled appointments.

I’m frayed.

I am unable to meet him at his church because of distance.

We keep trying common meeting points, half-way, but each one keeps being canceled.

The point is — the church calendar is so full with surprise meetings or other meetings, that even the evangelism coordinator doesn’t have time to meet with me unless I make it to the church to catch him between meetings.

His church calendar is so busy — can he spend time with unchurched people building relationships?

Pastors and Leadership

Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community is aimed at church leadership to help think through these hard questions.

Time (or perceived lack of time), program maintenance, church structures, and unawareness of passion and spiritual gifts among members of your church are primary barriers that keep your people out of the community and within the walls of your church.

They present a relational evangelism philosophy that will seriously impact your church’s DNA.

Evangelism Where You Live: Engaging Your Community isn’t really aimed at individuals, but pastors and leaders seeking to answer the question: How can our church connect with the community?

This goes beyond servant evangelism (doing random acts of kindness in Jesus name) and beyond scripts, to deploying members to meeting community needs.