The Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) released the compilation of the 2003 statistics for the church in preparation for the upcoming General Assembly, scheduled for June 26-July 3 at Richmond, Virginia.
Raw numbers show that membership has decreased, as it did for several decades prior to 2003. By the end of 2003, there were a total of 2,405,311 active, confirmed members in the PCUSA, showing a net loss of 46,658 from 2002. Total membership of the PCUSA was at 3,241,267, including the 343,378 baptized but not confirmed members and 492,620 inactive members. According to the Yearbook of American Churches, the PCUSA dropped to become the ninth largest church body in the United States; at its peak, the PCUSA held the fourth spot in the Yearbook.
Meanwhile, contributions to the denomination rose 2.5 percent to $2,923,384,580. Two thirds of the revenue was spent on local church programs; 15 percent was invested on capital expenditures for churches; 12 percent spent on mission and the rest was spent on the presbytery, synod and General Assembly per capita.
Amid the disheartening figures, the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, offered six “calls to action” for the church members in reversing the downward trend.
“We as Presbyterians will only become a growing church if we begin on our knees, praying for forgiveness for our timidity in evangelism and seeking God’s renewal, so that we and our churches lose our image as “God’s frozen chosen” and become joyful evangelists, actively sharing the Good News and inviting others into the fellowship of our churches,” wrote Kirkpatrick in his June 8 statement.
The first action listed was to expand “evangelistic outreach at home.”
“We need to realize that our most important evangelistic outreach begins at home,” wrote Kirkpatrick. “Statistically, we are not losing people to other churches. Our problem is that we are losing our people to the secular world – to no active church affiliation. All of us – pastors, elders and deacons – need to give special attention to nurturing our members, supporting them in meaningful ministry, and reaching out to them when they begin to fall away from active membership.”
The stated clerk’s second recommendation was to “follow the wisdom of the Book of Order concerning inactive members.”
“Not giving regular attention to the active involvement of members and seeking to restore their active participation at an early stage means it is often too late to re-engage active members when several years have passed,” explained Kirkpatrick. “This failure to give regular attention and pastoral visitation to those who have been active but are now slipping away is a major cause of our membership losses.”
Therefore, Kirkpatrick said, “every session needs to actively review its rolls at least annually and make a plan for pastoral visitation for those moving toward inactivity in the church’s life.”
The third recommendation was to baptize new members.
“Jesus was quite clear in the Great Commission that we as followers of Christ are called to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them (Matt. 28:19). Presbyterians are not doing a very good job of brining new disciples into the church through baptism,” explained Kirkpatrick, as he mentioned the drop in baptisms.
“It has often been said that Presbyterians are better at nurturing the faithful than at inviting those who have never believed into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, and these figures seem to bear that out,” said Kirkpatrick. “We need to develop the gift of sharing the gospel with those who have never heard the Good News and welcoming them into our churches through baptism.”
The fourth recommendation was to learn from the growing churches within the denomination.
“While we are losing members as a denomination, we do have many growing churches, and all of our congregations need to learn from them,” said Kirkpatrick.
These growing churches have six characteristics that distinguish them from many others: Vital programs for children and youth; widespread use of prayer groups and other small group ministries; new forms and times for worship with an emphasis on spontaneity, inspiration and joy; strong connections electronically; a cultural norm of inviting friends to worship and sharing faith stories; and excitement about the future of the church.
The fifth character to become a growing denomination, according to Kirkpatrick, was to become a multi-cultural church.
“If the PCUSA is to be a growing church, it must be a truly multicultural church!” exclaimed Kirkpatrick. “A far greater commitment is required if we are to be transformed into a Christian community that looks like the multicultural world in which we are living in the U.S. today,”
Lastly, Kirkpatrick encouraged the members to start new churches.
“Historically, the PCUSA has shown overall growth in the years when it was most active in new church development,” said the Clerk. “We need a commitment in every presbytery to begin more new churches than we dissolve old ones and a commitment in the entire denomination to generously support the Mission Initiative to help the whole church respond to the unique opportunity in our time to develop new churches.”
Kirkpatrick summarized his points by reminding the congregants that “no magic bullet is available” to make a church grow. Instead, the clerk said only the Holy Spirit can lead a church to life.
“It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and churches grow. However, I do believe that these six steps, if taken seriously by Presbyterians, will position us for the Holy Spirit to work in fresh and creative ways in our life, so that we might become the church that God intends us to be – a church that is growing in grace, growing in numbers, and growing in faithful discipleship to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”