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August 07, 2006

Comments

Glenn:

For the record, the money never came, he was revealed as fraudulent furing GA itself. The foundation is shrinking and the donation announcmenet came on the heals of the announcmenet of a layoff by the national office including some, I believe, 70 missionaries - that is where the money would have gone.

Te church growth statistics are readily available, I think at the PC(USA) web site, but I have never gone looking for them as they are handed out at Prebytery meetings.

John,
Thanks for the update. I'll take a look at the PC(USA) website for the stats.

My "why" questions still linger. Why have PC(USA) congregations become fewer, why have members become fewer? What are the various factors in play, especially when other denomincations like the SBC have grown since 1960?

And, how would the PCUSA spend Anderson's money, or the money they already have, for church growth?

One of the privileges of specialized ministry like the Army chaplaincy is that I get immersed in my specialty and disregard the larger politics of my struggling denomination. But it is now my responsibility to pick up where I left off and try to figure out just what on earth is going on.

In my experience, church planting and church growth in the presbyteries of the PC(USA) is a product of demographics and community growth plans. "If there are 100,000 people expected to move in to this area, then there must be at least enough Presbyterians among them to warrant a small church." Sadly, this is often the thought process and it often results in poorly funded and poorly pastored upstart churches that remain on the presbytery dole for decades.

I admire my brothers in the PCA for whom church growth and expansion is part of the air they breath from the moment they first receive a call to ministry. However, it saddens me that so many beautiful and historic church facilities are left to languish on million dollar downtown properties while the PCA buys new store fronts and builds new corporate-headquarters-model churches on the outskirts of the suburbs. Come back to the PCUSA! In all seriousness, diverging theologies may precipitate a radical reshuffling of presbyterianism in our lifetime, and I am hopeful that our more evangelical outgrowths are preparing to reintegrate into a larger denominational structure. PCA, EPC, OPC, ARP, CPC, etc, etc, etc. We will offer a more compelling gospel message if we speak together and demonstrate Christian unity. Bonhoeffer used to dream of a united Christian world front, I can at least dream of a united presbyterianism!

On the "where's the growth" question--a guided tour of our large church statistics will show that it is the evangelical churches within our denomination that experience growth and expansion. People need the gospel--they long for the Word of God, not spiritual cheerleading and potlucks. At this point in our culture of at-home self gratification, if you're going to bother to get in your car and go to church, it better change your life, and the only thing with that kind of power is the Word of God.

Tim,

Thank you for your insights. I couldn't tell if you were kidding about the church planting perspective of the PCUSA or not when you wrote about population centers and a few Presbies among 100,000 newcomeers to an area. If you're not kidding, I am profoundly saddened by this perspective. That's not really church growth but rather member re-organizing.

You mention that a tour of the larger PCUSA churches would show that many of them are evangelical. Do you wonder what factors lie behind that empirical reality? On one hand, there is in the sociology of religion a tradition associated with Dean Kelley's "strictness theory", more recently given rational choice theory backing from Laurence Iannaccone. But then I look at megachurches, which I study as part of my sociology research, and many of them would be difficult to characterize as "strict".

Strictness maybe one factor for church growth, but I wonder what other factors are in play. Could, for example, moderate and liberal churches employ the same social science principles that the evangelical Church Growth Movement employs and see the same results? What if moderate and liberal churches had enough parking and marketed the way the CGM churches do? What if they had clean, attractive facilities and excellent child care? I wonder how much of the CGM is about applied social science and how much is the work of God. Some might say that God is working through the applied social science, but what would evangelicals say about non-evangelical and non-Christian religious organizations that grow. For example, I don't think people would consider the LDS Church to be evangelical, and probably most would say the Mormons are not Christians in the sense of historic Christian orthodoxy. But the LDS Church grows all the time.

I'm not trying to make an equivalence between liberal and moderate Christians and Mormons,but rather I'm trying to understand the factors behind religious organizations' growth and decline. Empirically, it seems evangelicals who claim growth is all supernatural are wrong because religious organizations that many evangelicals think are opposed to God still grow.

Glenn,

I am at a conference right now hosted by Peach Tree Presbyterian Church that is examining the current state of the PC(USA). There are about 1000 mostly evangelical pastors and elders here gathered for what is called the "Presbyterian Global Fellowsihp", a new movement that has been spawned much in response to the recent denominational crisis. The organization is a postive response to our denominations languishing decline, and is attempting to assess how we can be a part of the Spirit's movement of renewal in our denomination.

There was some great stuff shared tonight. Vic Pence, pastor of Peach Tree Pres (the biggest PCUSA church in the country- about 10,000 members)- shared a great visual analogy using a rotary phone and a cell phone. While technology has experienced amazing and rapid innovation since the 1950's as represented by the phones, our denomination has failed to understand and respond to the dramatic change our culture has experienced. We continue to remain structurally and organizationally rooted in a deeply flawed bureaucratic system of governance, steeped in heirarchy and poor communication and insular structure, continuing to exist as if we are the privileged majority while in reality we are living at the margins. While some in our denomination believe that the response to our decline and marginilization should be to adjust and modify our message to make it more pluralistic, Pence focused on the fact that our structure needs to dramatically change rather than the historic message of orthodox Christianity. Then Steve Haynor, prof of evangelism at Columbia seminary and former director of Intervarsity, shared about a vision for a missional church, developing a beautiful description of what our church would become if we became formed more by our calling to those outside the church and less by maintaining those within it. It was a beautiful, worshipful, winsome atmosphere tonight and made me believe that there may be hope yet for this denomination. May God carry out this work of renewal!

From Timothy McConnell:

Glenn, your expertise in the sociological aspects of religious growth movements outstrips mine. I personally think it comes down to recognizing and meeting the need. In the purely sociological sense, the individual invests time and energy and personal fear to try to join a group devoted to certain causes. If that group does not place demands upon that individual that are consonant with the level of personal sacrifice and devotion it takes to join the group, then the individual will not feel that it is worth his or her time. The deep need is not good parking and coffee, but a need to be both accepted for who you are and challenged to be what you always wanted to be.

To shift to the theological, I think there are some religious groups out there that manage to meet the sociological/psychological needs of the participants. The individual knows that he or she must give everything up for the cause and for the hope of becoming part of something meaningful and true. Ultimately, the need to be redeemed and restored to God in Christ will not be met.

I don't think it comes down to "strictness"--although strictness demonstrates a certain seriousness about the cause, doesn't it? But it comes down to placing ultimate and meaningful demands on the individual to be a part of God's work in the world.


Corey, I'm glad you had that experience. Presbyterian Global Fellowship sounds like what I have been looking for! I had a similar experience years ago with Presbyterians for Renewal at a seminar in Orlando. It was powerful to worship together and sense that this is what our church was always meant to be. This weeks World Magazine http://www.worldmag.com/articles/12137 has a discouraging article by Ed Veith about the General Assembly. God only knows where we're headed, but I join in your prayer for renewal. The presbyterian church needs to recognize who the strangers are in our midst and begin to discriminate them from the faithful. Hard task, but necessary sometimes.

I am a PC(USA) "new church development" pastor (church planter). I am also a hard-core liberal. There are SO many points to respond to, I hope the site allows the length of the response!

What are factors to look at?

1. Why is membership even the right metric to use?

a. "Good" and "bad" churches are like "good" and "bad" movies. Some good movies sell lots of tickets, and some do not. Some bad movies sell lots of tickets, and some do not. Some faithful churches grow, and some do not - and vice versa. Membership growth and faithfulness simply aren't correlated either positively OR negatively.

b. My measure of faithfulness is not based on evangelism, primarily because I am a classically Reformed Presbyterian - I believe that salvation is a matter of PREDESTINATION (election), NOT "choosing" Christ. I don't preach to save souls because I believe, as a Calvinist, that one CANNOT preach to save souls. Only God does the saving, and God chose the saved before I was created. So my measure of faithfulness is in things like mission projects - "good works", so to speak. Not because we are saved by works (of course we aren't), but because works are the only thing we have any control over.

2. Decline doesn't mean anything.

a. No enterprise grows forever. We are declining primarily because our denomination, as a human institution, resists change. It's like asking the question of a person: "Why aren't you in better physical shape than you were 10 years ago?" ... asking that of a 10-year-old is different from asking that of a 60-year-old. We're declining because our "stores" didn't move as fast as our "customers" did.

b. The "Atkins" effect. A lot of businesses, including bagel shops, were hurt by the Atkins fad. That didn't mean their bagels were worse than before; it was a change in appetites. But if they stopped serving carbs, they wouldn't be a bagel shop anymore, right? A lot of Presbyterian churches are choosing, in effect (without saying so) to die as they are rather than to survive as something else. Does it really matter? Does it really matter if the number of Presbyterians in the Body of Christ rises or falls relative to Methodists or whatever?

c. Summary: we're declining because we had a lofty position from which to decline. The SBC or AoG are rising. They will peak. They will decline. And it won't mean they're doing anything wrong.

3. Yes, money DOES make a difference.

The maximum grant available for starting a new church from scratch is $120,000 payable over 5 years. Not $120,000 per year - $120,000 TOTAL. That has to be matched by the regional governing body. With real estate prices being astronomical in the Northeast (I'm in New Jersey), can you realistically plant a standalone church on $240,000 spread over 5 years?

Further, the key to the Anderson grant (if it ever arrives) is the lack of the matching grant requirement for regional governing bodies. Many of our regional bodies in extremely densely populated areas have the least money available for church planting or revitalization, and therefore do not qualify for national grants under present rules but could qualify for "Anderson" grants.

4. Presbyterian Foundation

Yes, the Foundation has billions of dollars (yes, plural), but that isn't money for spending. The Foundation is an investment organization similar to a mutual fund organization like Vanguard or Fidelity. Local churches have accounts with them, as does our Pension fund. So saying the Foundation "has" billions is like saying a bank "has" billions of dollars. It may have billions on deposit, but it can't spend the money.

What Anderson is promising to do is "deposit" the money into an account with the Foundation and allow the denomination's "Loaves and Fishes" fund to "withdraw" the money for distribution.

5. We have too much bureaucracy

I will concur with criticism of PCUSA on one major front: we have too much bureaucracy, and therefore too many bureaucrats. We spend more money on governing body staff than mission, particularly at regional levels. And as I said, money does make a difference.

Mr. Hong--

Your point "1b" is so laughably wrong-minded that I can't get past it, and it puts the rest of your comments on the "suspicious" list for credibility.

Let's focus on being a "Reformed Presbyterian". One of the hallmarks of a "Reformed Presbyterian" (you know: like Machen, and Warfield, and Hodge, and Knox, and Calvin, to name a few) is the clear understanding that preaching the Gospel is commanded by Christ of the believer, and it is commanded of the listener to receive it. You know: Jesus is both Lord and Christ -- and that means people have an obligation to him to receive Him as the universal Sovereign.

Yes: John 6 has a theological application to the matter, but it is not a missiological application. The crazy thing about John 6 is that Jesus is preaching the Gospel to those whom He knows have no faith!

There is also the problem of Acts 2 -- where Peter, upon delivering the Gospel, answers the question "What shall we do?" His reply, "Repent and be baptized" is the classic example of preaching the response to Christ all men are obligated to have. Let's make sure that I say this clearly: the evangellifish "altar call", response-with-no-discipleship is not the same thing. But what Peter's example is clearly teaching is preaching for the sake of saving souls.

How are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? Paul is saying this clearly: preachings is made so all can hear and some will be saved. The salvation of the lost is the essential to the full proclamation of the resurrection of Christ.

Your view here -- that somehow God's election is disconnected from the faithful declaration of the Gospel -- is riddled with holes. Being a Calvinist doesn't make one a martyr for a hopeless cause: it makes one a bondservant of Jesus Christ who has already won the victory, and now we are here gathering in the harvest.

The rest I'm leaving to Glenn. God bless you as you reconsider this.

From Timothy McConnell:

I appreciate Rev. Hong's comments, and his work to expand the body of Christ. I think he illustrates the fundamental difference, though. Some think the PCUSA is in decline because the previous generation (or two) married modern culture. Others think it is in decline because the present generation is not willing to marry contemporary culture.

Personally, as I have tried to say, I think the Church declines when it stops affiliating itself with the full presentation of the Gospel of Christ. The Church exists not primarily to save souls, nor primarily to nurture them. The Church exists primarily to worship God. True worship includes reverence and even submission to God's standards -- "if you love me you will keep my commandments". When the Church defines itself by its ability to accept and tolerate any range of human behaviors without reference to Scripture or tradition, it abrogates both the true Gospel which is good news for sinners and the opportunity for worship in spirit and in truth.

I agree with Rev. Hong that the decline of the PCUSA is not the worst event in human history. It is natural for movements to decline, even church movements. Still I continue to hope and pray that there will be a new "surprising act of God" in our midst that will bring reformed worship into a contemporary and tangible unity. The tragedy for me personally is to see that my church, which used to stand as a pillar of influence over and against our government in the era of its very formation, now has no power to even suggest the slightest idea in the public realm. The presbyterian church that formed the early culture of the United States is now relegated to the margins. My prayer is that the "surprising act of God" will also include a reinvigoration of some deep infrastructural roots of our church. (Translation: all the big churches downtown in every city--you know, the ones next to the capitol and down the street from the mayor's house that now stand empty--will once again be filled with people who love the Lord and come to worship Him in spirit and in truth). Central to this vision is leadership that will convey the timeless truth of the Gospel to the people of God, not the chapel of tolerance that the mainline has become. We worship not tolerance, nor unity, nor purity, but the Lord. And the Lord will keep His church.

Rev. Hong,

Thank you for stopping by and for responding to the post about Stanley Anderson and my questions about the PCUSA. This is another of those ocassions when I wish we could chat in person because of the limitations of this medium.

You identify yourself as a "hard core liberal" and I would appreciate hearing more about what you mean by that. Do you mean theologically liberal? In what sense? In what ways are you different from your theologically conservative brethren in the PCUSA?

You raise some good questions and somethings you state invite questions in return. I agree that counting noses is not the end-all, be-all metric. It seems to me that a few religious organizations whose theology strikes me as sub-standard (to be kind) have grown dramatically. Likewise, the PCA and SBC, two denominations that I love and have many ties to, have church plants that fail every year in spite of their (in my view) theological faithfulness.

At the same time, given the nature of the mission of the Church, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, and teaching them everything Jesus has commanded, growth seems like a healthy thing. Especially when one is preaching and living out the gospel of the Kingdom in high population areas....I actually wonder, "How can you NOT grow?" The fields were white for harvest in Jesus' day and still are white for harvest.

Unless you are willing to impugn all, most or much of the fruit of SBC and PCA church growth as illegitimate by your standards, what could be wrong with faithful churches that DO grow? Why do so MANY conservative churches in various denominations grow? Of the churches that die in metropolitan (i.e. NOT rural or small town contexts) areas, how many of them are faithful?

Of course, that would require a massive research project to investigate and that has not been done to my knowledge. All I could offer in support of my supposition about the theological timbre of deceased churches is anecdotal (anecdotal has a place, but a very restricted place, for this sociologist). From my limited experience, the dead and dying churches I've personally witnessed in metro areas have 100% been what I would consider liberal churches. In those same areas are churches like Park St. Church in Boston which is stronger today than ever-- the equivalent of the 60 year old man in your illustration being healthier than a 20 year old.

Organizations often decline, but some renew themselves and stay healthy or become even healthier. It does happen, though far less often than decline.

That's all for this comment but I'll return to address other questions you raised and statements you offered. Thank you again for interacting and perhaps some of your friends will join the discussion.

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