The Next Forty Years

A commissioner to the General Assembly (our denomination’s national meeting that happens every two years), came back to report on what he did. He was a bit disappointed that he was on the church growth committee. The first day they sat down and talked about how if the church continues to decline at the same rate, then there will be no members left in forty years. The second day, they studied Matthew 25. The third day, they studied Matthew 25. They went on a couple of field trips, and they studied Matthew 25 some more.

The people hearing the report were shocked. That was it? I mean Matthew 25 is super, but… that’s it?

Perhaps there was more to it than that, and that’s just what the commissioner reported, but wow. Why not come up with a strategic plan for growth? I realize that there is no denominational master plan that we can follow. We tend to be much more grassroots. But we had the best and the brightest minds of our denomination gathered in one place, why not dream a bit about what we could do? We have a lot of money, a lot of property, and some of the most gifted pastors… what could we do? Here’s what I would love to see happen:

1) Become determined to keep our recent grads. If anyone has met anyone who has recently graduated from seminary, you will know that we have a glut of qualified candidates, and no place for them to go. Actually. Let me rephrase that. We have some of the most brilliant people in our church who are unemployed. I have seen the most incredibly gifted minds walking around, wanting to be ordained, and we have no place for them. Some of them are finding jobs as interns, or working in seminaries, or non-profits, but they can’t get ordained without a traditional call. Can we begin to open up our idea of what a validated ministry is? Can we make sure that we track these graduates? Could Presbyteries support them and encourage them while they look for positions? Can we offer internships and educational opportunities for them? (I know you guys need jobs, not more education, but untill then….) We’re going to need them soon, and we don’t want to lose them.

2) Quit giving incentives to ministers who are past retirement to stay employed. I’m not sure what other denominations are doing, but in the Presbyterian Church (USA), pastors get incentives to stay in their jobs beyond the age of 65. This is going to take action from the General Assembly to change. I’ve written on this before, and here’s a comment from a Pension representative to explain exactly what they’re doing. With grads not able to get jobs, this seems like a bad idea.

3) Help churches to die well. There are many things that we do, as pastors, when we stand beside the bed of someone who is dying, and there are many things that we don’t do. It’s the same with our churches. We don’t tell churches that they are failures because they are dying. We don’t shame them for not living a few years longer. We celebrate their lives. And with churches, we can help them to imagine how they can use their resources and assets to plant new churches.

4) Support people who want to plant churches. While going to Bible School, I was told there was one way to “make disciples” and that was to plant churches. In our denomination, only a couple of New Church Developments were started nationally in the last couple of years, but I know at least twelve people who would start a church tomorrow, if they could. Many of them have been approved by the denomination. They are raring to go, but there’s no place for them to go. They have been told to just plant the church, and then look for denominational support. But they have children. They need insurance. They need some support.

I’m a part of a group of pastors who are starting to fundraise for NCDs outside of the denominational systems. They are DOC, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Post-evangelicals.

There will be some NCD failures, just like a percentage of new businesses fail. We can plan for those. And we can let the pastors decide what makes sense in their context—a traditional church, an emerging church, a monastic community, a coffeehouse church, a nesting church, or whatever…. There are a million ways to do it now.

Generation X is an entrepreneurial, innovative generation. We start businesses. We create new technology. And we are itching to start new churches. (The DOC is doing a great job of this.) And the Millenials are a very large generation. Can we begin to imagine congregations that make sense in their context?

Will we support our innovators? Will we allow people to retire? Will we give dignity to churches who are dying? Can we have a better vision for the next forty years? What would you like to see happen?


27 thoughts on “The Next Forty Years

  1. These are three things I’ll be fighting to accomplish over the next 40 years:

    1. Ordain LGBT people without even realizing it was a big deal once; bless their marriages; baptize their children; celebrate their lives at their funerals

    2. Church-wide commitment to radical nonviolence as the political expression of Christian faith

    3. An entirely different way of doing education for ministry, moving away from an academic model of absurd four-year master’s degrees to a decentralized skills and competency model

    4. Church-wide commitment to ecological renewal and economic sustainability as the only sane way to approach the future and care for God’s creation

    5. A desegregated Sunday morning

  2. “But we had the best and the brightest minds of our denomination gathered in one place.”

    Call me a cynic, but I often wonder if this is truly so. It seems to me just as likely that you have the most contentious gathered….

    Or, at least, you have the ones “willing to go,” which given the state of contentiousness, is perhaps a better testimony to their fortitude. But it still doesn’t necessarily make them the “best and brightest”

    Having said that bit of negativity…

    I wholeheartedly agree with point #1, especially the bit that pushed for ordination to a broader sense of “validated ministry.” The question “where will the money come from?” remains, of course.

    I also agree with #2, but feel that one will be (and perhaps should be) controversial. How to make sure we send a message to care to ALL of our age groups is (as you know well!) important, but difficult.

    Re: #4. I have a friend who recently started a NCD here in the Los Angeles area. The amount of “red tape” they had to go through was astronomical (to be fair, I expect part of it was getting appointed a “Commissioned Lay Pastor” while he finished his MDiv. He’s in the ordination process, but wasn’t ready to be ordained just yet). While I expect we want to advocate for oversight and accountability, how much of that was truly necessary?

  3. I concur especially on points 3 and 4. As someone who has chaired a presbytery committee, we do not help churches die well. We keep them on life support until it is painfully clear that they need to die and it often doesn’t end well. And I don’t know why if vitality and healthy congregations are truly important, why we don’t put money where our mouth is – not just say it is important but put energy and money into it and make it important and a priority.

  4. Great post as usual. All four points are spot on for strategic thinking around church health.

    Point 4 resonates most deeply with me – I am encouraged when I see more and more folks in denominations thinking post-denominationally in order to strengthen their denomination.

    Have you seen Doug Pagitt’s newest book Church In The Inventive Age? The way you phrased some of your closing comments made me think of that book.

    I also really like Doug’s thoughts – these seem to be leaning in a post-denom way that is truly more about kin(g)dom building rather than congregation building. As it turns out, when we think like that people just might be drawn back into our communities of worship, celebration and service.

  5. I would only add (to these excellent ideas) my desire that when we say “church” we stop picturing a building. Buildings can be useful tools for ministry, but they are definitely *not* a church.

  6. Thank you, thank you for even talking about the next 40 years! As a GenX clergy person, I get so tired of being surrounded by people who do not expect to serve the church more than 10-15 more years, and consequently don’t imagine the future much beyond that.

    I also want to affirm the point about helping churches die well. I was just writing a similar point over at my place, not about whole churches but about particular programs–about how we need to “live and let die,” and the importance of helping them die well rather than exhausting ourselves with life support.


  7. WOW,
    Some fantastic ideas in this piece. I’ll def need to go back and read some old posts. And be sure that I’ll check out the new ones from now on.

    But I have two concerns: 1.Congregation funerals & 2.New Call opportunities. In many ways these two concerns are linked.

    I certainly think there are churches that need to have a nice funeral and the doors locked. But how do we determine who they are? How do we define a vital congregation? Do we do this by congregation size, ministry activity, ability to pay per capita/min compensation package, etc? In some areas churches are fighting against larger churches in the same presbytery who want them to close because they are seen solely as property assets. And in many cases these churches are the only Presbyterian/reformed/or even organized Christian presence for that community.

    Then again we are “a people of the resurrection” and I believe there are some churches that could live again in new ways with new ministries if they had new leadership. And there are call opportunities but some of them will take new seminary grads to new, different, frustrating, and even strange parts of the world/country. But many of “our best and brightest” don’t want to step out into new and unfamiliar. We have to re-examine the pastoral expectations with our seminary grads. You may not walk the stage with an MDiv and into a 200-400-1,000 member church in the middle of suburbia making 60-70K a yr. Why not consider tent-making? Why even re-invent the wheel when there are so many flat wheels that only need a patch job.

    There are plenty of churches in the system looking for pastors. And there are plenty of pastors in the system looking for calls. But it’s not just the fault of the candidates…there are churches with narrow vision to what they believe a pastor should look like & sound like. How many churches could find new life if they would only accept the idea that the one called for “such a times as this” is female clergy? How many churches would find new life they they would only accept the idea that the one called for “such a time as this” may have a different skin tone than the majority of the congreg.

    …I apologize to Carol Howard Merritt and readers for preaching when I should be writing my own sermon. May God continue to help and bless us all!

  8. Carol —

    Thanks for putting this out there. A couple of comments:

    1) I respectfully disagree with this point — or at least, with how you have framed it. It seems to stand the “supply-demand” model on its head, akin to saying, “Well, GM has produced far more SUV’s than the market can bear — so we therefore have a responsibility to find a market for them.” (And please know that I am speaking as one currently without a call). Part of my perspective comes from having served one of our seminaries – ten seminaries, the same number as 40 years ago, turning out roughly the same number of graduates as 40 years ago, when our denomination was twice as large. There is a very real, and very difficult, issue here regarding the parity between the needs of the church and the output of the seminaries, particularly when the application acceptance rate at our seminaries averages around 70-80%. I think we need to begin not with, “we need to provide vocations for everyone who graduates from one of our seminaries” to “we need to honestly re-examine the role of our seminaries in light of the needs of the denomination and the Church.” In other words, the Church does not have as one of its responsibilities the vocational placement of every person who chooses to pursue an MDiv. We should begin with. “what does the church need?” and then address the role of the seminaries in that light. I think it’s important to remind the seminaries that they exist to serve the church — not the other way around.

    2) I don’t yet have an opinion on this. Need to read your other post. 😉

    3) Agree, although I’m wary of highlighting it as an emphasis or goal. What will the effect on smaller churches be of headlines that we’re trying to train pastors to help churches die? Again, I think it’s an important skill — and in my experience, every EP I have worked with is strongly in favor of having their pastors acquire and employ these skills where necessary. But I don’t think it should headline the seminary curriculum. And here’s another thought: Do you think a pastor can learn how to help a church die in a healthy manner if she has not yet learned how to help a church live in a healthy manner? This might actually be an area where our older, more experienced pastors actually are more valuable than younger ones.

    4) On the other hand, THIS is the subject that I think should headline the seminary curriculum. I couldn’t agree with you more strongly on this point. Not only are there clear biblical and theological mandates for this, but from strictly from the perspective of a business model, consider: our denomination has diminished by half over the past few decades. Where do our members exist to be counted? In existing congregations. Therefore, it is the existing congregations (and ministries) which have lost members and/or failed to attract new members. I am hard pressed, therefore, to endorse a strategy that aims to keep doing what we’ve been doing in the places where we’ve been doing it, if that strategy has been shown to be unsuccessful. I recently overheard a conversation between a 4th-year student (dual degree) and a trustee. The student (with some ministry experience) expressed dismay that, while he was getting good theological content from seminary, he felt sorely unprepared for the practical demands of ministry. The trustee’s (somewhat condescending, it seemed to me) response was that he had had exactly the same complaint when he was in seminary, but had learned over the years that the purpose of the seminary was to give the student a theological foundation, and it was the student’s responsibility to put that into practice in the parish. The thing is (I thought), if that’s been the accepted model — and if we expect our pastors to take the lead in guiding and growing the church — and the data shows that we have been shrinking for several decades — well, then, it seems to me that this “business model,” as it were, IS NOT WORKING. We need to fundamentally re-think the role and responsibility of the seminary in the context of the PCUSA in the 21st century. And the primary obstacle to this is, I think, the fact that the primary (if not entire) ecclesial context for almost all who are in positions of power at the seminaries is one of a majority-white, modern, societally-privileged and generally respected institution. Can we realistically expect people with such cultural constraints to effectively TEACH men and women who have grown up in multi-cultural postmodern contexts how to faithfully lead congregations into the radically different reality that is the 21st century in North America — much less, teach them how to plant churches in this context?

    Sorry — didn’t mean to hijack your post. It’s just that you kind of pushed a button with me. 😉

    Thanks again for your ministry, congrats on you new book, and let’s keep raising he– um, people’s consciousness of this issue.

    in Christ’s service,


  9. Re: Last comment

    I think you’re making some very important observations re: item #1, even as I disagree on some of the focus. Let’s start with your bit at the end:

    “I think it’s important to remind the seminaries that they exist to serve the church — not the other way around.”

    As I read CHM, I see her in full agreement on that point. For myself, I certainly don’t think that churches should be hiring all seminary graduates as pastors. However, people go to seminaries having discerned a call to help the church (perhaps not all are actually so called, but I truly don’t think that we can equate “difficulty finding a job” with “wasn’t called”), and with our focus on “ordained ministry” being limited to “pastor” or “associate pastor” (with few additional roles identified), the church is losing those resources as those people must devote their time and energies elsewhere.

    Does the church have a “responsibility” to make sure that all such people have jobs? Maybe not, but I think this question misses the point. If the church doesn’t get creative about finding ways to utilize the training of such people, the church is missing out on opportunities to use these skills to better survive in the next few decades. To some degree, that does mean finding jobs for more graduates, but I don’t think it’s limited to that.

    All that said, the seminaries would indeed do well to rethink how they serve the church, and therefore what training they provide (and, it seems to me, how long and at what financial cost they provide that training). I totally agree with you that this is why they exist.

  10. The commissioner’s report on the GA Church Growth Committee was correct about the study of scripture and field trips but perhaps missed the goal of the committee leaders to offer positive vision for what growing “Deep and Wide” could mean. It was clear watching the flow of items brought to the floor of GA that church growth was a minor player next to the major issues of the assembly. Those issues, all of which were/are of huge significance to this interest group or that one will have little bearing on our capacity to address our “human gulf oil spill” as our denomination loses some 100,000 people a year. While turnaround congregations (and many exist) and denomination are certainly possible given the “doing a new thing” nature of the God we worship, it likely will take a major re-focus of the GAMC in Louisville to get us there.

    There are many issues involved in the BOP provision to enable people to work up to the age of 70. While retiring in one’s paid off home and riding off in the sunset may have worked for other generations I can at least say for those of us who are boomers that will not be the case for most of us. Many pastors wind up taking a series of interim positions after formal retirement simply to sustain a living income. BOP offers four options to a retiree from Option 1 that gives max benefits upon retiring but if you die, your spouse receives half of your retirement salary to Option 4 which lowers your benefits by 20% but if either you are your spouse dies your income does not diminish. By working three more years under the BOP plan the 20% may be earned back – and even so the total of BOP retirement plus Social Security income is a pay cut for many pastors compared to their effective salary upon retirement.

    While BOP urges people to have a 403(b) retirement account to supplement BOP retirement income, most pastors do not see major money flowing into such accounts from their congregations so the option to work a little longer (and up to five years isn’t very long) can make a big difference to the retiree’s income. This is just one example among many but the idea that this is specifically to keep older pastors working (and thus shutting out up and coming younger ones) doesn’t hold water! BOP has graciously given people a variety of ways to assure a living level of income in retirement.

    I love your focus on new church developments. A truly major push there would serve a lot of people not affiliated with any congregation and breathe new life into the church.

    Blessings —

  11. I think the most important part of this post is #4 – Supporting and encouraging new church developments. We as a denomination need to look at new ways to “do” church in order to thrive in the future. And it’s especially important for the denomination to support these church plants. The other day my fiance (works at a United Methodist church) was asked by a colleague if he would consider working at a church plant. He said of course, but only if it meant he did not have to support raise on his own to survive. There are lots of people, especially in my age bracket (I’m 26) who want the denominational church to survive and understand hot the church needs to change to survive. But, they lack funding, support, resources to start these new church plants.

    I guess it’s time to make our voices heard!
    Thanks for the post & comments. Kristen

  12. In this entire thread, the word “Christ” has appeared once (in a closing) and the word “Jesus” has not appeared until now.

    I respectfully suggest that He must intentionally be placed in the center of our thoughts, our hearts, our sermons and our programs.

    Should not everything be about Him and because of Him and should this not be observable?

    Is not our affection for Him sufficient to spill out through frequent mention of Him in our writings and deliberations?

    Read the writings of the founders of denominations and great, enduring movements and observe their reverence for Him. There can be no doubt that they were animated by their love for Him and, perhaps more importantly, their awareness of how much He loved them.

    Is not the reason we minister to bring people into greater intimacy with Him? Frankly, it’s hard to see that in what I’ve read so far.

    Does not our love for Him burn like a fire in our hearts? Do we not yearn to light that spark in others and fan it into perhaps and even more intense flame than ours? Again, frankly, this does not describe what I’ve read so far.

    I suggest that we bring Him more into the center of our plans, our deliberations, our ministries and, most importantly our hearts.

    If we truly love Him, this shouldn’t be difficult and sharing that love with others should also not be.

    Maybe the churches that are supposedly dying wouldn’t die if this simple thing was happening in them. Maybe they deserve to if it isn’t.

  13. There are so many great thoughts here… I wish I could respond more. But I’m on the road right now, so I can’t. I’ll be back in action soon.

  14. Carol, I love reading your blog. You do a great job of identifying and addressing issues that matter. Thank you.

    In a post about church growth, number four is clearly the winner. There are loads of folks out there who are hungry for the gospel and desperate for meaningful ways to connect with communities and are unwilling or unable to find either in traditional churches. Investment in new and creative startups – whoops, I mean NCDs is essential.

    Three is true enough, but I’m not sure how much it addresses church growth—except perhaps in the reallocation of resources. The problem is, my experience has been that it takes a ton of time and energy (read: resources) to help a church to die.

    I hold exactly the opposite position on number two. I’ll not mix it up with you too much on that one except to say that in addition to being “fair” in terms of expected benefits to plan members, the post-65 increase factor is the only thing that allows many second-career pastors to retire at all.

    Finally, I want to maybe press a little bit on number one because I’m not sure I follow. Is your proposal of a more expansive view of validated ministry designed to help us “keep track” of high quality folks who can’t find a traditional call? While I empathize (I really do) with folks who face the frustration of not being able to find a call, I’m not at all sure what ordaining them into internships and program positions at non-profits will do to change the game. I mean if those are the positions that many of them are finding already—what difference does it make (except to their egos) whether they are wearing the title Reverend? Our ordination is to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and if a position doesn’t involved both of those as central duties, I’m not sure what the ordination is for.

  15. I cannot agree with points 1 & 2. I am a 66 year old pastor serving two churches in rural Kansas. I would love to retire, but know the struggle the churches I now serve will have in finding a new pastor. I am healthy (as are the congregations), we all love each other, and I still feel called to serve, so I am not going to retire. But I would seriously consider it if some of those pastors who are languishing looking for calls would be willing to serve smaller churches in rural areas. I am an Ivy League graduate and graduated from seminary with honors. I did not come out here as a last resort, but because people in small churches in small communities deserve the same quality of pastoral leadership as any big and beautiful suburban church. Sometimes I fell like Horton, calling out “We are here. We are here. We are here.”

  16. Carol,
    I have to say that I met some incredibly bright and hope-filled people at GA. And some that were less so. 🙂 I came away encouraged and excited about the possibility that God has much yet to do in and through the PC(USA).

    One chorus I heard over and over was the desire to talk more about the core missions of the church- evangelism and discipleship – rather than the hot button issues. So, I found it interesting that the commissioners I met who served on the Growth committee experienced their time similarly to the way your commissioner described it. Based on Mr. Ott’s comments, there was definitely a disconnect somewhere. Sad.

    As to your second point- I just sat through a seminary-based BoP presentation that was cringe-inducing. Even as we were there to figure out how to reduce debt and live on ever-lowering salaries at fewer churches, they were crowing about the pension benefits for those who stay in their positions into their 70s and the pastors who are able to purchase vacation homes on the investments they’d made… I’m sure it is more nuanced than that (again, I defer to Mr. Ott’s comments), and I don’t want to retire from the pastorate someday and work at Walmart as a greeter to get by, but really?

    What if mentoring a cohort of new seminary grads became a validated ministry recognized by the denomination and BoP, allowing retiring ministers to benefit financially AND support the ministry of new leaders?

  17. Laura, That sounds like a good idea!

    Marvin, Thank you! I will have more information sent soon!

    Carol, I want to be clear. I have served small churches and I love them. I don’t want to be in the business of closing churches. I just want churches who are ready to die to have the proper support and care so that they can do it with dignity.

    I also know that many people who are retirement age have an incredible amount of energy. Those who love to work, and are willing, that’s great! I’m concerned about those who need incentives to work. I know some burnt-out pastors who are prolonging their retirement to get a higher income…

  18. Carol, I think one of the things the other Carol was saying is that maybe there are some parishes who are not ready to die and who would like a pastor, but who have a hard time attracting people. This is not just financial, but often location as well. I loved my first congregations as well, and while they did not pay an exorbitant salary, but paid fairly. But a lot of people just cross these congregations off their list.

    So I think it’s not just a shortage of call, but also where the calls are located.

  19. Yes, I understand and agree. My husband and I were pastors in South Louisiana, where there was a severe minister shortage. It was great for us, because we could both easily get jobs. But it would not have been so easy for a couple whose spouse was in another profession or for a single person who would want to date outside the rural fishbowl.

  20. Dear Carol,

    I was late getting to your blog post from August 20, and am even later in my reply to it because I needed several days to reflect after reading your opening comments about your commissioner’s report to presbytery after having served on the church growth committee. I also served on the church growth committee and I am scratching my head and wondering if we were in the same place. Because I had a completely different experience.

    First of all, let me clear up a few things. We did study the same passage a number of times, but it was Luke 10, not Matthew 25. And we used the passage as a way to get our community talking about church growth in their own locations. We divided up into small groups and gave people questions to think about and share. Those who were interested in learning from one another and growing together shared their frustrations as well as their successes in the area of church growth and had an opportunity to talk about many different ideas and dreams for the future. Each different study was led by one of our dynamic, enthusiastic and gifted staff members from the Office of Evangelism and Church Growth.

    Now of course we also had assigned business we were required to address. Some of it was less than exciting, but at other times we learned a great deal. We learned about the growth in racial ethnic, immigrant, and multicultural congregations. We learned about the lack of Hispanic/Latino/Latina leadership in our seminaries (in contrast to the rapid growth of this population in certain areas of the country. We had the opportunity to talk about youth ministry and to explore in small groups what youth ministries were effective in different contexts. And because our required business took less than the allotted time, we were able to experience on our final an exciting panel discussion, with five panel members (including two people serving congregations, one denominational staff person and two consultants in church growth work – one was Stan Ott). The panel discussion was a wonderful time for the group to ask questions, to explore options, and to dream and vision together. Sadly, a few of the committee members (and I am guessing your commissioner) decided to opt out of this day, missing exactly what you said you would love to see happen. After lunch we did have a “field trip” as the commissioner reported (but most likely didn’t attend). We visited two vastly different churches from different corners of Minneapolis – one an affluent suburban white church and the other an inner-city, poor African American church – both doing exciting ministry and church growth work. At each church we heard from pastors and members about the work they were doing that energized them and served their particular community. We were able to ask questions, take notes, and see for first-hand the ministries and missions these churches were involved in.

    Everyone I talked with from the committee who entered with an open mind, a willingness to learn and grow, and a desire to see the best for the PCUSA, had an incredible, energizing experience. I am not sure what committee your commissioner was a part of, but it sure doesn’t seem like the one I experienced.

    Now that that confusion is cleared up, I want to respond to your four points on church growth.
    1) I agree wholeheartedly. Brilliant, talented, visionary students are graduating and cannot find a job. With four people searching for every one job available, the pickin’s are slim and yes, we are going to lose them if we don’t find a place for them to use their gifts. We have a huge challenge in that the small churches who really need such visionaries are the very ones who can’t consider them because they can’t afford a minimum salary with pension. This is a huge problem, and a relatively new one. Fortunately, I think we have many people out there discussing this problem and thinking about ways to move forward. The Committee on Theological Education spent the majority of their three day meeting recently discussing the “Raising Leaders” paper written by the Joint Committee on Leadership Needs. In our presbytery’s church growth committee this morning, we discussed the paper and this issue, among many others, was raised and discussed. The more people we can get thinking about this problem, the sooner, I think, we will find a solution.
    2) I must admit that I know nothing about this, so will just have to skip it!
    3) I agree that we must help churches die well. Closing a church should not seem like a failure. And yes, as Stan Ott says, we must celebrate the past before we are can be free to move into the future.
    4) This is a key issue that we have got to find an answer for. I am a new church development pastor and I am thrilled to be doing this work. But I could not be doing it without salary and benefits as you point out. I think the best model is the parent church model, where a large (endowed usually) congregation sends out “missionaries” to start a new church and they pay the pastor for the first 2-3 years until the congregation can get a grant and get on its feet financially (I do want to clear up though the statistics about new church starts – you said our denomination only started “a couple” of NCDs in the last couple of years, when in fact in 2008 forty new churches were organized and in 2009 twenty-six were organized. Now you may have meant that this number in a denomination our size seems ridiculously small, like a couple, and with that I agree. I also think the numbers went down in 2009, at least this is true for my presbytery, because the endowments for this kind of work shrunk, budgets shrunk, and presbyteries and churches went into survival mode, not dreaming mode. I don’t agree that this is what they should have done, but I do think this is what happened.). At any rate, we have visionary pastors (see #1) who want to be serving in exciting and new ways and they can’t find the financial support to do so. We’ve all got to step out and take financial risks for these new starts to find the support they need.

    In the end, Carol, I daresay we agree on most everything you wrote about. I am, however, still extremely saddened by the report given by your presbytery’s commissioner and the excitement and vision that was happening in that committee which he decided not to embrace. I hope you get a chance to talk with others who had an experience more like mine!

    Grace and peace.

  21. Mindy,

    I’m so glad to hear a full report! And I’m extremely relieved that things were not as they were presented. It’s too bad that the commissioner was on a committee that he didn’t seem to have much interested in. It’s so important. As I said, at the Presbytery meeting, we were shocked…

    I always wonder about how many new churches are started. I usually go be the Church Leadership Connection and in the last couple of years, there have been 2 listed. It’s a tricky number. I mean, what’s the way that we count them? Some “new churches” have been in existence for 10 years, they’re just not completely financially independent yet. Are we counting those? Where’s a better stat?

  22. Yes, sometimes our “decently and in order” becomes the religion itself and becomes a barrier for the Spirit. I have been a member of four Presbyteries, all of which entangeled NCD work in so many layers of “process” that nothing happened. Meanwhile new churches – both denominational and non-denominational sprang up and grew. NCD ministry is a unique thing – requiring a little bit of entrepreneurship, some vision, a willingless to let go of expectations, and lots of faith. I agree that providing pension and benefits and some financial assistance without strings would unleash a new wave of creative church-planting. The results might not look like the typical suburban churches that were planted throughout the 50’s and 60’s.

  23. Carol,

    I found the 2009 statistics from the Stated Clerk’s report.
    I found the 2008 statistics (40 churches) in a similar report.

    I don’t know exactly how “organized” is defined, but I suspect it has to do with the official date of “chartering.” Our church was chartered in 2008, and we got our official PIN – and became an official church, rather than an NCD. I was installed as pastor of the church, where before I had been listed on the staff of presbytery (though my salary was paid through the church with the help of a the grant we had received). I’ll see what I can find out though, because “organized” might very well mean something else entirely! But maybe the church growth office has some better stats. I’ll let you know.
    I do know that the largest area of growth has been in racial ethnic and multi-cultural groups.

  24. Hi Carol,
    Thanks for a meaty, thoughtful blog! I’ve read the string of entries about the next 40 years–particularly churches facing decline and death, and wanted to add my peice.
    This topic has become a passion for me and I’m doing research and interviews for a writing project on how to minister with churches that face closure, merger and other significant downsizing. One of my curiosities is whether there is a way to connect churches in decline with new emerging ministries, to pass on their legacies and spiritual resources. I confess I haven’t read your book yet, but maybe you touched on that or have other ideas about how this is happening. There are a few good examples out there (Doug Pagitt’s church building was once a UMC with 7 members) and I’m looking for more.
    I would like to be blogging more with people interested in this topic ecumenically. They can find me at

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