I have spent considerable time reading many of the Outlook editorials and letters to the editors, only to wonder in disbelief if these authors are members of the same denomination as I. What is our objective? Article after article about political, hot-button issues and the real animosity among the writers troubles me greatly. I’m disappointed and see major storm clouds on the horizon! I think of these polarizing issues that divide our churches as “God issues.” None of us is brilliant enough to know all the answers, so I compare them to issues of faith. We are unable to prove anything to the satisfaction of those that hold an opposing view. We have no proof of Christ’s virgin birth, His death, or His resurrection that will satisfy an atheist.
I am an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I am a past president of the Board of Trustees in the United Church of Christ. Although these hot-button issues were sometimes discussed regarding actions taken by the greater church denomination, never once did one of these splintering issues come before me for action. Most of us have an opinion on every one of these issues, but that does not mean our opinion is God’s judgment on the issue. More important to our mainline denominations and our local churches should be, how are we going to keep the church doors open in a world of increased secularism. Have you seen the deplorable membership and attendance patterns of mainline Christian churches over the past two generations? We have lost millions of PC(USA) members! It’s a good thing our pastors aren’t compensated based on membership and attendance. Or is it?
As mainline Christian churches are in free-fall decline, other faiths like Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Bahai, and Deity are in rapid growth modes in America. Save mega churches, evangelical Christian denominations are not setting the world on fire with their growth either. Are we sending visitors the wrong signals? What is our purpose? In the business world we talk about business models. If the Presbyterian Church USA were a business (some say it is), the management would be hiring an independent company to find the causes for our steady decline and provide a remedy. Without a new plan, more and more church doors could soon be shuttered. Who is going to pay the bills in twenty years?
Perhaps we need to write more Outlook articles that provide solutions to the ever-eroding membership and attendance patterns afflicting all mainline Christian churches.
• Why is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination in a rapid state of decline?
• Where are the young people in our churches?
• What happens when all the members born before 1950 pass away?
• How can fewer and fewer church members indefinitely continue to financially support the following needs:
• Increased church property maintenance costs?
• Higher insurance premiums?
• Ever increasing employee salary and benefit costs?
• Employees replacing what used to be volunteers?
• Worldwide Missionary programs?
• Local Outreach programs?
When are members going to demand a new business model that allows our churches to survive in the 21st Century? The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs to focus on keeping the doors open for the next generation of Americans to provide a place for Christians to worship the Risen Savior. We members and pastors need to focus on issues like:
• Being more like Christ.
• Living within our financial resources.
• Caring for the hungry, the homeless, and strangers among us.
• Providing financial and physical support to local missions.
• Converting non-Christians to our faith.
• Using modern methods of advertising, i.e. Internet, rush-hour talk/music radio, and television.
• Supporting local high school and college youth programs.
• Developing new resident programs.
• Developing visitor follow-up programs.
• Developing programs (music, talent, social) that appeal to young people.
• Sponsoring real overseas mission programs for our youth.
• Persuading all members that they are responsible for outreach to non-Christians.
• Removing pastors who are unable to motivate and sustain their congregations.
I know this may sound crass, but Christianity is about spreading the good news about Jesus, not our personal beliefs on social justice. Supporting liberal, conservative, Democratic or Republican hot-button issues are not helping our churches grow. As our national conferences debate and feud over hot-button issues, our local churches lose when the results are published in our newspapers or TVs. No matter what side wins, about half of the members disagree with the result. As we congratulate the winners, the losers leave for other churches or just drop out. And we don’t even know God’s will on these issues, we can only guess.
We are playing right into the hands of politicians and lawyers. Is there any more unloved group of people in the world today than politicians or lawyers? Visitors are saying, “I came to church to hear about Jesus, not about your denomination’s political views. You preach about Christ and I’ll follow Him.” Press reports on our denomination’s hot-button debates and votes cause many prospective members to stay away. Our mainline Christian churches are on track to fold in 25 years. Do the math! We need positive, uniting press releases.
One of my very favorite quotes is from H.L. Mencken and goes like this: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” This problem of declining mainline Christian churches has been occurring for fifty years or more, and we are complicit every time we fan the flames. We have suffered through generations of declining memberships and attendance, and there will be no quick, clear or simple solution. Nevertheless, if we continue to drive down the same old highway, our destination can never change. We need to read the road signs and focus on constructive issues that unite and grow the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
James H. Dove