Per Capita: What’s in It for Me?

By William McConnell

It’s that time of year again: time to take a quick breath to recall Advent and Christmas celebrations; time to look ahead to what the new year will bring. It’s also time to consider your local congregation’s missional priorities and the financial pledges you have received so that a budget can be finalized.

And about that budget: What is this “Per Capita” number that the presbytery sends us? Are they asking for money, again? What does Per Capita do for me? What does it do for my church?

These are all important and appropriate questions. As a connectional church, our work is maintained, sustained and funded by a financial system called “Per Capita.” In this system, each governing body above the local congregation’s session determines how much it will cost to do what the “Book of Order” and the next higher governing council require. Each body also calculates what it will cost to do the ministries it believes God is calling it to do. And the General Assembly determines the cost of maintaining the structures and systems at the national level that support the internal work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its relationships with other faith communities around the world.

Has your congregation ever benefitted from Per Capita payments made to your presbytery, synod or the Office of the General Assembly? Before you say no, let me ask you to consider the following questions:

Has your pastor ever consulted with presbytery leadership for guidance?

Have you ever searched for a new pastor?

Has a member of your congregation sensed a call to ordained ministry and begun the discernment process?

Has your pastor or Clerk of Session referenced the “Book of Order” when your Session is making decisions?

Have members of your congregation served as commissioners to the General Assembly?

Has a member of the Office of General Assembly staff ever attended your presbytery meeting to help interpret the church’s work?

Have you read statements from our Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, about issues facing our world?

If you answered yes to any of those questions (and there are many more), you and your congregation have benefitted from the dollars you have contributed to Per Capita.

Want to learn more? On Sunday, January 23, 2022, the PC(USA) will lift up Per Capita as a special emphasis. The Epistle lesson for that day is 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a (“The body has many members”). The PC(USA) website ( houses free resources to assist you in planning your worship service or incorporating a Per Capita discussion in Sunday School classes or educational activities. There are video “Minutes for Mission,” a sermon starter, liturgy suggestions and even a new hymn (to the tune we know as “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”). You’re welcome to use these resources in any way you like.

Our church is a connectional body of believers. We thrive when every member of the body is healthy and works together. At its core, Per Capita helps us to do just that.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13).

William McConnell, CFRE, is a Mission Engagement Advisor for the Presbyterian Mission Agency serving the Central region of the United States. 

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