Thursday, August 25, 2005

Growth and Evangelism

Today the Missouri Union Presbytery met, and since I was an elder-commissioner, I took a personal day and attended with our pastor. As synchronicity would have it, the Mission Yearbook of Prayer for August 25 featured our presbytery. The entry looked fairly informative to me, but a friend mentioned that it was just a little depressing. “How so”, I asked. He pointed out the statistics tell a story of a presbytery woefully underserved by pastors. 8,199 members in 77 congregations are being served by 30 ministers of Word and Sacrament. This statistic is mitigated somewhat by the many retired clergy who serve as supply pastors and commissioned lay pastors who serve many smaller congregations, but the ratio of called pastors to congregations continues to go down in Missouri Union Presbytery.

In the worship service, the executive presbyter reviewed the history of the presbytery and its predecessors, and painted a picture of declining influence of the Presbyterian Church in Missouri over the last 180 years. He challenged the congregations to renew their historical commitment to evangelism and to seek to increase our numbers over the next years.

The Presbyterian Panel has summarized the February 2005 panel and in it were some questions on personal evangelism. The data suggest that members are more willing to meet the needs of current members, and to contact people whom they knew, than to make visits to people newly arrived in the community or speak to people in the workplace. (n.b the graphs show pastors opinions about the members in their congregations). More than half the members (59%) and elders (68%) have invited at least one person to church in the past year. The percentage rises when the panel was asked about other church functions: 61% of the members and 77% of the elders have invited someone to a function other than worship. 19% of the clergy report spending no time inviting people not affiliated with a church to attend services, and 10% report spending 10 hours or more per month in such activity. The median monthly number of hours pastors spend in outreach contacts is 2.

The usual separation of clergy into pastors and specialized clergy was not evident in this panel summary, yet over a third of the clergy responses were from specialized clergy.

I will leave it to others who are better attuned to the nuances of statistics to make sense of the data, but it does appear that we have much to improve on.

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