Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on Membership Decline

This week brings news that the PCUSA had its greatest membership loss last year since the reunion between the UPCUSA and the PCUS. Although death and dismissal to other denominations were factors, most of the loss came from those who drifted away from their congregations without becoming affiliated elsewhere.

Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons tried to rally the troops to renewed evangelism efforts in response to this report, but I don't think we'll see that happen. This morning the Southern Baptists reported similar membership losses despite the traditional evangelical emphasis in that denomination which is much larger than the PCUSA. Clearly declining membership is not just a problem for the mainline churches. Blogger Reformed Pastor (an EPC minister) observed in his post about the latest PCUSA membership losses that "membership loss and ineffective evangelism is not just a mainline problem, but a Christian problem here in America."

Bloggers on the conservative (Curmudgeon's Progress) and the progressive (Sam at Crying in the Night) are alarmed by this news and what it may portend for the church. There are lots of folks --Presbymergents, PGF'ers, the Witherspoon Society, the Presbyterian Coalition and others--who have their own views of the reasons for the decline and try to address the problem accordingly.

But the problem IS bigger than one denomination. There's a changing culture out there that is flashier, more entertaining, more hip, more materialistic and ego-centric, more everything than the church which, at its foundation, is counter-every-culture. And there's the problem. As the culture moves farther away from the church, how much can the church change and remain faithful to the gospel?

The real question is not how can the church reverse membership losses, but how can the church tell the story of the Gospel so that future generations may come to faith. In every age the church is only one generation away from extinction. This age is no different from any other.


Reformed Catholic said...

There is a great comment from the Rev. Johnnie Monroe which he gave at the 'Big Tent' conference in Atlanta.

“The Presbyterian Church stood for truth and light and justice. They reminded us that we were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Those were the days when we were proud to be Presbyterians,” Monroe said, adding that Presbyterians have a long history of social consciousness and evangelism.

“But something has happened to this Bible-believing, justice-seeking denomination in recent years,” Monroe continued. “Instead of making the world look like us, we have begun to look like the world. What I see is a church that is looking more like a corporation than Jesus Christ. We balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.”

He was covering a few areas he has seen changed in the PCUSA, but these observations could also cover other denominations as well.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Sobering news indeed.

My crackpot theory is that there will remain a core of faithful who remain guardians of the flame as it were until world apocalyptic events reduce the numbers of our way over-burgeoned population and return our species focus back to God and caring for one another as His children.

Lucy said...

I think the church is evolving and that God is in charge. The church - the body of Jesus Christ - will never approach extinction. It just may express itself in ways that are not familiar to the world. Including the world of organized religion.

Stushie said...

Perhaps it's time to be reading up on remnant theology...:)

Rev Kim said...

Great post! I started to comment on this, but them my comment got so long that I decided to do a post of my own.