3 questions and answers from Heath Rada

Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), shared trends he has seen in the life of the denomination and invited questions from participants during an August 1 workshop at Big Tent.

Here are three questions tossed his way, and the answers Rada gave:

  1. You’ve said you are seeing a new spirit in the PC(USA). What does that look like?

Rada said he has visited 26 states in the last year, and “I am observing a new spirit emerging.” He sees a renewal of young adults coming back to the church. In his home state of North Carolina, White IMG_2910Memorial Presbyterian Church and Myers Park Presbyterian Church both have experienced “tremendous” growth in young adult members, Rada said. He also said that the congregation where he is a member has – for the first time in memory – more members under age 45 than over 45.

Why are young adults flocking to Presbyterian churches? “We’re a safe place,” Rada said, where questions are welcomed. “We are a church without walls,” he said, with an increasing trend of young adults seeing Sunday morning worship as a way to refuel to go out into the world. Also, young adults “value that we are a church of diversity.”

  1. Is the PC(USA) shrinking? What do the numbers say?

Rada gave these statistics:

  • In 2013, the PC(USA) lost 152,000 members;
  • In 2014, the PC(USA) lost 92,000 members.

Of these losses in the past two years:

  • Approximately 50 percent were removed from church rolls because of inactivity (not because they moved to a different faith community);
  • 25 percent died;
  • 25 percent transferred to other communities of faith.

However, Rada said that these numbers alone do not tell the full story.

In 2013, about 72,000 joined the PC(USA) and in 2014, another 65,000 members were added, for a total of 137,000 who joined over two years. “That is the mark of a church that is alive,” he said. In a time when “nones” are the norm, “wanting to be a part of the church in a day when you don’t have to be” is different – a change, he stressed, from the rapid growth seen in the days when church participation was generally a societal expectation, and a hopeful sign.

  1. I read in the Outlook that we’ll have to cancel 30 percent of our mission staff – is that true?

Rada agreed that a significant impact on global mission worker numbers is likely forthcoming. He said that between $12 million and $17 million needs to be raised over a three-year period to maintain the current roster of 165 mission coworkers and their families.

General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada with Ben Terpstra of Oak Ridge, TN
General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada with Ben Terpstra of Oak Ridge, TN

“Is it time for us to re-examine how we do global missions?” he asked, stating that he is working with Hunter Farrell, the PC(USA)’s director of World Mission, and a small group of people to find resources and new models for funding the work – including, but not limited to, global missions. He said it is important to remember that while the global mission budget has remained the same in recent years, the national mission budget has been cut in half. Even so, said Rada, Presbyterians have the biblical mandate to tell the good news, share their wealth and minister out of our bounds. Intentional work is being done, he said, “to forgo the calamity” of losing the Presbyterian mission presence in the world.