SOUTH CAROLINA -- The Presbytery of the Trinity in west-central South Carolina submitted an overture to the upcoming 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, to reverse the constant flow of members out of the denomination, during its meeting last month.
The overture, entitled, “On Encouraging National, Presbytery, and Synod Leaders to Foster Evangelism” seeks to secure a growth of 3 percent of years for the next five years beginning 2005. At such a rate, membership would increase by about 600,000 by 2010.
Most of the overture is aimed at growth at a local level. It encourages local church sessions “to set voluntary goals and objectives using church growth or church health methods,” to secure the 3 percent per year growth.
In the past, several presbyteries have submitted similar overtures to encourage evangelism. However, these efforts often failed, mainly because subsequent denominational commitment in terms of resources and money has been meager.
For example, in 1999, the 211th General Assembly adopted a church growth strategy report called “A Vision for Church Growth in the Presbyterian Church USA.”
Beginning with the words, “The 211th General Assembly (1999) enthusiastically approved a number of ambitious membership growth and church planting goals contained in the Church Growth Strategy Report …” the report called on every Presbyterian congregation to "be a mission outpost; carry out the great commission to make disciples within its neighborhood, as well as the world; and prayerfully design a mission plan to be in ministry with those who are hurting, in need, and without Christ." Evangelism, by name, was on the top of the list of the “Great Ends of the Church” that year.
However, that “enthusiasm” choked when it was place on the agenda of the General Assembly Council that year. The executive director of the council, John Detterick, upon looking at the proposal, encouraged council members to continue their efforts in evangelism. However, he discouraged the cutting of funding from other efforts for peace, justice and social issues. Eventually, the compromise they conjured up was one that weighed evangelism and “justice” equally.
Between that year and 2002, the denomination lost 108,232 members.
As a response to that failed effort, the moderator of the 214th General Assembly in 2002 again proposed a plan to increase church membership. Moderator Abu-Akel called on every member of the denomination to recruit one new member, so that the denomination membership could double in a year; statistics show a projected loss in members that year of 45,000.
Some say the ineffectiveness of these proposals are due to their lack of emphasis on evangelism.
The 2003 proposal, for instance, was a 5,239-word report that included only one reference to "evangelism" – in that case, referring to the committee's name. In 2002, the 214th General Assembly's Committee on Evangelism’s study was named "We Are What We Eat."
In the past five years, the denomination has lost nearly 43 percent of its members since 1967 at an average of nearly 50,000 a year. Numerically, membership dropped from 4.2 million to 2.45 million at the end of 2002.
The following is the text of the Trinity overture, as released by the Presbyterian Layman – a newspaper dealing with issues within the PCUSA.
Overture 04-31. On Encouraging National, Presbytery, and Synod Leaders to Foster Evangelism – From the Presbytery of the Trinity.
Whereas, in the year 2002 our beloved denomination lost 41,812 members reflecting a 1.68% decrease in membership in that year;
Whereas, over the year of 1991 and 2001 our denomination has lost 321,040 members reflecting a 9% loss in membership in that decade;
Whereas, Jesus' command to "go and make disciples" reflects a continuing imperative to "go" (Matthew 28:19);
Whereas, God is faithful (I Thessalonians 5:24) and will never leave us (Matthew 28:20);
Whereas, the local congregation, its leaders and members remain the place for training, goal setting, and leadership of the local mission (B.O.O. G-11.0103(a));
Therefore be it resolved that Trinity Presbytery overture at its February 14th Stated Meeting the 2004 General Assembly to resolve to encourage our national and synod leaders to foster evangelism by
1. Having the General Assembly's Stated Clerk write each session:
a. including prayer for their growth;
b. asking for them to set voluntary goals and objectives using church growth or church health methods, for example encouraging at least 3 percent growth per year for the next five years beginning in 2005;
c. asking for them to endorse their goals and return them to the presbytery stated clerk and the General Assembly Stated Clerk's office.
2. Encouraging the stated clerk's office of each presbytery and synod to write a letter of encouragement to each session in their jurisdiction to seek God's leading and to make plans as lead by God and the Session.
3. Encouraging all ministers and elders to pray for God to raise up faithful members for each congregation in our denomination.
4. Set aside a morning worship service at the 2010 General Assembly to report on God's faithfulness and to celebrate Christ daily mercies to our denomination.