Top Challenges for the Mainline

Carol Howard Merritt, a Presbyterian pastor and the author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation (2007 – read my review here) and Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation (2010 – read my review here), chaired a national committee for the Presbyterian Church (USA).  She shares the four significant challenges for the next generation as identified by the committee:

  • Our denomination is over 90% white, while the overall population is increasingly diverse.
  • The median age of our denomination is over 60, while one of our nation’s largest generations (the millennials) is entering their 20s.
  • About 44% of our congregations can no longer afford installed pastors. While we believe in an educated clergy and ordination standards remain high and costly, in practice, laypeople or retired pastors lead almost half of our congregations.
  • We are losing an increasing number of churches. The number of churches that have closed, merged, or left the denomination has more than doubled in the last ten years. In 2010, we lost more than nine churches every month.

So What?

While the challenges listed were crafted with the PCUSA in mind, they also apply to mainline Protestantism more generally.  All mainline denominations need to take seriously their racial makeup in comparison to that of the country at large, graying membership, financial challenges of small congregations (as well as denominations themselves), continued decline not just in overall membership and funding but also number of local congregations.

  • Which of these concerns is already impacting your local congregation? which are likely to do so in 10 years? 20 years?
  • How would you grade your denomination’s current efforts to better understand and begin addressing these four challenges?
  • Do you believe these challenges are likely to fuel significant innovation on the denominational level in multiple mainline denominations? Why or why not?

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