Facts are our friends.
Good and wise decisions can only be made based on facts.
According to the latest statistical report from the Office of General Assembly, there are 10,623 congregations in the PC(USA).
- Of those 2,949 churches have less than 50 members
- 2,490 have fewer than 100 members
- That means over 50% of PC(USA) congregations (5,439), have less than 100 members.
If we were to ask the typical church person what the markers for a healthy and successful ministries and pastorates are, the most common answers would center around things like, growing memberships, growing financials, growing influence, growing attendance, etc.
And because these are the criteria we typically think of for successful and healthy ministries and pastorates, the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and congregations find themselves feeling inadequate. If growth is the only marker for healthy and successful pastorates and ministries, we have just declared that the great majority of PC(USA) pastors and churches unhealthy and unsuccessful.
While we cannot claim that PC(USA) congregations and pastorates are all healthy, to outright declare that they are failures and unhealthy is just as false and unhelpful.
There’s got to be more to being a healthy and successful church and pastor than these indicators.
Before I go any further, I do want to say that I think numbers are important. It’s just that numbers cannot be the only indicators for health.
Gordon Lathrop, in his book "The Pastor" says:
“The text seeks to call pastors to find the center of their vocational identity, the heart of their spirituality, in the communal tasks of presiding at the holy table and at the holy bath, of preaching, and of seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor” (p.viii).
Presiding at the holy table and the holy bath. Preaching. And seeing to it that there is a collection to be justly distributed among the poor.
In the PC(USA) vernacular, we refer to the pastor as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.
It is interesting that while this liturgical and sacramental understanding of the role of the pastor is clear in our confessions and polity, in practice, what we most congregations want from pastors is for them be organizational growth experts.
And when growth doesn’t occur, guilt and blame abound.
For congregations and pastors alike, a Biblical and reformed reflection on what constitutes a healthy pastorate and a healthy ministry would be fruitful.