MANILA, Philippines

Modern information technology can help a traditional Protestant church in the Philippines strike a balance between spirituality and social advocacy, and draw new pastors, church leaders say.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines is grappling with the challenge of finding ministers because ministry is "not very attractive because this is the only course which a student enters to become poor," said the Rev. Reuel Marigza.

The divinity professor at the UCCP-run Silliman University in Dumaguete, central Philippines, was quoted in the UCCP-GA News, an official Web site reporting about the May 25-29 general assembly of the 62-year old church. 

UCCP pastors are paid directly by local churches, which are autonomous. But autonomy makes it difficult for small churches to pay their pastors a decent salary, noted Marigza, the UCCP’s newly elected general secretary.

Marigza noted that enrollment at Silliman University has recently declined. While 100 students attended the university's divinity school in 1998, the current enrollment has decreased to 60. 

Despite the low pay of UCCP pastors, the pastor-to-membership ratio remains good. Some 1,593 pastors serve the church’s 500,000 members. That means there is one pastor for every 313 members.   

In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church has just 7,000 priests nationwide. Yet it needs at least 25,000 priests to cater to the country's predominantly Catholic population, the Catholic bishops' conference president, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, reported in October. 

Lagdameo had said the ideal ratio for the Catholic Church is one priest per 10,000 members. But due to a severe shortage of priests, they must care for 50,000 parishioners or more.

Lagdameo also cited a decreasing fidelity to the service of God to explain the shortage of priests.

The UCCP was challenged to better use modern information technology to reach out to the youth and interest them in the ministry. 

"I'm challenging you to make the changes. We can do so by adapting or changing the way we communicate," the Rev. Fidon Mwombeki, general secretary of the United Evangelical Mission in Germany, told delegates of the UCCP general assembly May 26.

Mwombeki said pastors could discover how to reach out to members, particularly the youth, through their mobile phones and the Internet. "I'd be very happy to see a program in our church which helps bring the message on Facebook or YouTube or Twitter. If we do not reach out to the younger generation, we will lose them," said Mwombeki.