Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
The Confession of 1967 says:
The church disperses to serve God wherever its members are, at work or play, in private or in the life of society. Their prayer and Bible study are part of the church’s worship and theological reflection. Their witness is the church’s evangelism. Their daily action in the world is the church in mission to the world. The quality of their relation with other persons is the measure of the church’s fidelity. (Book of Confessions, 9.37, emphasis added)
People like to use numbers to measure. Your doctor wants to know your blood pressure, your dentist wants to know how many times you floss, and your spouse wants to know on what temperature the thermostat is set. In the church we tend to count two things: how many members and how much money. In some sense we are counting how much have we gathered in our fold. But what if we counted a different measurement?
In the 2014 annual congregational survey, we asked this question: The Office of the General Assembly asks these questions to estimate how many non-members are being served or reached by congregations.
“During 2014, how many different individuals would you estimate that the members of your congregation served or ministered among as they carried out the various activities, programs, and outreach of the congregation including visitors?”
In other words, how many people did your congregation impact beyond its’ membership.
With 40 percent of congregations responding, the grand number was 3,462,288, or an average of 815 per congregation. Now considering that the average size Presbyterian congregation is 170 people, this is a pretty amazing measurement. If we were to multiply the 815 times all of the PC(USA) congregations, it would equal more than 8 million people. Roughly 1.7 million people serving 8 million people.
I don’t know what the drafters of the Confession of 1967 were thinking when they wrote the quote above. But I am guessing they were thinking that our true size is not how many people sit in our pews each Sunday, but what impact that worshipping community has on the world. By that measure it would seem we are being abundantly faithful.