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Reversing the Decline…Can Our Church Grow?


For more than 40 years the membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been in decline.  The same is true in Shenango Presbytery for almost every church.  Only the following have grown since 1972,  (Ebenezer 131/142;  Bethel 296/347; Faith 281/309) although membership numbers compared to attendance were definitely inflated in 1972.  Comparing attendance numbers would be more revealing.  See http://christiancentury.org/article/2010-09/no-shows


There are several reasons why churches grow or don’t grow in membership.  Two of them are:


  1. Having babies who grow up and stay in the church.  That explains much of our decline.
  2. Evangelizing unbelievers followed by their conversion by the Holy Spirit


We don’t have much control over the first one anymore.  We’re too old and even if we do a good job of nurturing our children in the faith, many of them move away for better vocational and economic opportunities because Presbyterian kids are educated to a higher level than the almost every other group.


We don’t do well on the second one because (I fear) we do not really believe that it is important to introduce people to Jesus and invite them to become his followers.  That is a hard thing to say but I believe that’s why more than 90% of the world’s Christians were in Europe and the Americas a hundred years ago and now 2/3 of the world’s Christians are in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  The birth rates are higher there, but that does not fully explain their dramatic growth in the past century.  Evangelization is actually much harder in many of those places.


Many more Christians in those countries believe deeply that people need Jesus…and they live as his evangelists.  There is a sign on the edge of Ellwood City that says, “You will either be a missionary or a mission field.”  That’s true!  The dramatic changes in worldwide Christian numbers confirms it.


The Evangelism Committee is offering you an opportunity to reflect on these matters at an event with Dr. Scott Sunquist on November 6 at East Main Church.  It is called “Reversing the Decline.”  There is no guarantee that this will happen in your church, but business as usual will guarantee continued decline.  I encourage you to come join the conversation.


Remember, this is not about the survival of your congregation.  It is about, “Go therefore and make disciples…”


David Dawson

Presbytery Executive


Published by shenangopresby

The Presbytery of Shenango serves 49 churches in Mercer and Lawrence Counties of western Pennsylvania.

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