A few days ago, members of Session and I attended a lunch with representatives of a new program of the Presbyterian Foundation called “Project Regeneration.” Along with people from several other Long Island congregations, we listened to a presentation that provided information about congregations around the country much like ours: that is, established churches that once had hundreds of members and now are much smaller and struggling to maintain their ministry. This lunch was designed to be the first of four gatherings to be held over the next year on Long Island to explore ways churches are responding to their situation, especially financial strategies.
Although it was not said in so many words, the theme of this first lunch seemed to be: “You are not alone in your experience of decline.” Here are just a few of the facts that were shared with us:
The national Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) has lost over a third of its membership in the last fifteen years and has 13% fewer congregations.
A “typical” Presbyterian is 63 years old. The average American is 38 years old.
The median Presbyterian congregation has 81 members.
85% of mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian etc) have plateaued in membership or are declining.
If the sanctuary is less than 40% full for worship, visitors are much less likely to return.
Congregational mergers are rare. (Nice to know that we here are special!)
In the face of these sobering facts, churches around the country have found ways to re-define their mission and to maintain their financial viability. I am hoping that over the course of the next three lunches, we will learn about creative and inspiring examples that will help us to think “outside the box” in terms of continuing ministry in these difficult times. Our guests from the Foundation provided this helpful thought: “The situation you and your church find yourself in is not your fault, but it is your problem.” I would only add: “It is our problem but also our opportunity.” Although our situation may not always feel hopeful, I believe we have the resources to fashion a new way of being a Christian church here and now. God is challenging us to use our creativity and to gather our courage.
Please let me know if you would like to be included in the next lunch, which will take place on Tuesday, March 26 also at Sweet Hollow.