1,001 in 10
The numbers reflect a bold new vision: establishing 1,001 new Presbyterian worshiping communities in the next 10 years
The goal: 1,001 new Presbyterian worshiping communities in the next 10 years. It’s a dramatic proposal for a denomination that has been gradually declining in membership since the mid-1960s. The “1,001 in 10” idea was first floated publicly last spring by Roger Dermody, deputy executive director for mission of the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC).
“I want to acknowledge the obvious,” he says. “In our changing world, as we wrestle with the shape of our common life together, we need to have tough conversations about this critical moment in time, and about our life together as Presbyterians. What I and your other leaders are hearing over and over again … is that it’s all about our congregations.”
The PC(USA) will get healthy, Dermody says, “because the local church is getting healthy.” Explaining what he calls a “bold new vision,” he says, “I believe that our work has got to be focused primarily on creating the conditions that will allow our existing worshiping communities to flourish and engaging them in giving birth to over 1,000 new communities of faith within the next 10 years.”
Noting the changing landscape of religious life in America, Dermody explains that he’s not talking about establishing formal congregations. “We need to acknowledge that many of our faith communities are in the process of becoming. I believe we need openness to fresh movements of God’s Holy Spirit, where people are gathering in sushi bars, tattoo parlors, dorm rooms, living rooms and boardrooms.
“If we truly hope to reach the next generation with the good news of Christ,” Dermody says, “we not only need our existing churches to flourish, but we also need brand new places for people to gather and worship and grow and be sent out to change their communities.”
Eric Hoey, the GAMC’s director for evangelism and church growth, and Philip Lotspeich, coordinator for church growth and transformation, have introduced a new resource to help existing congregations assess their potential. Developed in partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the New Beginnings program “helps congregations that have been struggling with sustainability make a bold decision about their future,” Hoey says. The program “helps congregations to get ‘unstuck’ about their future—to choose their future instead of having the choice made for them.”
Through a process that usually takes six to eight months, congregations are enabled to examine such information as demographics, participant tenure, historical trends in attendance and giving, financial data, building condition, attractiveness to visitors, energy level of congregants, community needs and the strengths of the congregation.
“Healthy congregational life is about sharing good news rather than about institutional survival,” Lotspeich says. The New Beginnings program, he adds, “helps leaders make a compelling case for change without imposing change but by creating an atmosphere for change to be discussed and adopted by the church.”
The process, Lotspeich says, is designed to help congregations make three shifts in their goals:
From making good church members to making disciples of Jesus Christ
From preserving the institution to making missionaries
From church growth to community transformation
About one in four congregations that go through some assessment process determines that its life as a congregation in its current form is over.
“Every presbytery has at least one congregation facing severe financial challenges,” says Tom Taylor, president and CEO of the Presbyterian Foundation. Presbytery leaders often are reluctant to challenge seriously troubled congregations, he observes. At the same time, many of them “would really like to start new churches and ministries but feel they lack the resources to do so.”
The Foundation has begun to work with churches and presbyteries to “creatively transform, reorient or restructure existing assets in ways that allow congregations to use their assets to give birth to whatever comes next,” Taylor says. If a congregational assessment such as New Beginnings leads to a decision by a congregation that it’s time to wind down its existing ministry, leaders of the church, presbytery and Foundation work together to determine asset transition.
Various possibilities are available: renewing the existing church, starting a new church, establishing a creative ministry fund to provide financial assistance to other ministries, establishing an endowment to support local or overseas mission.
The point, Taylor says, is for congregations and presbyteries “to be intentional and creative in the use of the assets they have. The question all Presbyterians should be asking is ‘What’s the best use of the resources God has given us?’ ”
Probably the greatest area for growth in the PC(USA) is within racial ethnic and immigrant communities, say Rhashell Hunter, director of racial ethnic and women’s ministries, and Sterling Morse, coordinator for racial ethnic and cross-cultural ministries. Twelve percent of established PC(USA) congregations and 15 percent of worshiping communities have predominantly racial ethnic or immigrant memberships, Hunter says.
The “1,001 in 10” vision is already evident in many of those communities, which include formally chartered congregations; Bible study groups with no structure or ordained leadership; fellowships, which meet regularly with some structure but which may never develop into formal congregations; new church developments, which have designated leadership and a formal relationship with a presbytery; and networks, groups that are organized around a particular interest or ministry.
Presbyterians from across a wide theological spectrum are responding positively to “1,001 in 10.”
“We already have lead commitments that have gotten us almost halfway to our goal,” Dermody says. For example, second-generation Korean Presbyterian leaders have pledged to start 100 new worshiping communities, as has a mission pastor in Los Angeles.
Many questions remain about how to translate this new vision into reality, Dermody acknowledges. “But I think we can answer them. This is doable!”
Jerry L. Van Marter is coordinator of Presbyterian News Service (PNS). This article is an adapted version of his story published by PNS in June 2011.
LEARN MORE—Get involved
1,001 in 10—a movement to establish 1,001 new worshiping communities in the next decade: www.pcusa.org/1001
Starting New Initiatives—a booklet describing a prayer and discernment process to help congregations decide how they can best minister in their particular contexts. Available free from the PC(USA)’s office of Church Growth: www.pcusa.org/churchgrowth; (800) 728-7228, x5247; firstname.lastname@example.org
New Beginnings—a program to help congregations make decisions about their future: http://whatisourfuturestory.com
Presbyterian Foundation—finding new ways to use church buildings and financial assets: www.presbyterianfoundation.org
A different kind of discipleship
New worshiping communities will arise out of faith that the gospel can change society.
Craig Williams has been pondering how to meet the goal of “1,001 in 10.” A California-based member of the PC(USA)’s evangelism and church growth staff, Williams believes reaching the goal will require a “discipleship that captures people’s imaginations that they can actually change society—that the gospel actually changes it for the better.”
Americans “tend to want to reap the benefits” of the society they are used to “and add Jesus to it,” Williams says. “But that creates a discipleship that doesn’t change things.”
As an example of discipleship that changes society, Williams tells the story of a Kenyan woman—a Christian and a graduate of Harvard Business School—who began to be concerned about girls growing up in the slums of Nairobi. She noticed that these girls dropped out of school by age 14 or 15, never completing their education. As she studied the problem more closely, she noticed that before dropping out completely, the girls began missing several days of school each month because they couldn’t afford feminine products when menstruating. So every month they fell a bit more behind in their classes.
Working with a manufacturer of low-cost fabrics, this Kenyan woman developed a business that provides affordable feminine products and also creates jobs for people in the community.
“The church in Nairobi is setting about to change culture and society, and they believe that they can—all in the name of Christ,” Williams says. This kind of transforming discipleship “needs to be modeled—not merely taught in a Sunday school room,” he adds.
The ability to plant new Presbyterian worshiping communities will also require a shift in PC(USA) governance toward becoming permission-giving rather than regulatory, Williams says. “In the past, most of our power has been in saying no. But our real power is in sending, relinquishing control and letting people go do stuff.”
Letting go can be messy, he adds, “but it’s the kind of messiness that allows the Spirit to move and control this rather than us.”
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico. This article is adapted from her story published by Presbyterian News Service in August 2011.
History is always important, and we Americans were first noticed as not paying attention, in the 1830's. In trying to move in these new directions, I believe we need to be aware and make others aware that we are building on the shoulders and long-standing accomplishments of others. For example, Christian missionaries have been all over the continent of Africa since the 19th century, and especially in Kenya and elsewhere up and down the eastern coast. But by and large they were European and British (Belgian and French). The father of Kenneth Kaunda in Northern Rhodesia, Zambia's first elected President, was baptized by British Methodists and became one himself in the 1930's. My point is not to think of ourselves as brave first timers, but rather as relative late comers who will do best by partnering with those who have been there for over a century, learn from them, and share joint resources aimed at the continuing development of these countries, to the extent that they want this kind of assistance.