A New Decade: Irony Continues At GA 51 (Part 1)

As the PCA General Assembly convened on June 11th in the Greater Richmond Convention Center in downtown Richmond, VA, for the first time following its 50th birthday gala, ruling elder Steve Dowling from Southeast Alabama Presbytery was elected as Moderator. He led the meeting with fairness and proven skill. Attendance was down slightly, likely due to a lower level of pressing business. The teaching elder to ruling elder ratio remained about 70:30.1

The Stated Clerk’s office had attracted some unwanted attention several days before the Handbook went out, when a seminar on dealing with political polarization was announced, featuring controversial anti-evangelical, David French. A minor firestorm erupted with articles from several publications documenting Mr. French’s views. Even though a stalwart or two tried to rise to Mr. Chapell’s defense by letter, neither those appeals nor Chapell’s statement assuaged. The last thirty days before Assembly, finally, the PCA found something to tussle over.

The small kerfuffle, which erupted in mid-May, led to cancellation of the seminar that would have platformed a champion of some left-leaning evangelical views. The Stated Clerk admitted his error of judgment in issuing this invitation, but the pushback from the right wing of the PCA prevailed and offered a corrective, despite the eagerness of some to hear alternative views.

Warren Cole Smith in Ministry Watch (5/18/24) concluded his observations on this controversy: “Insiders of the PCA often say the initials really stand for ‘Process Church of America.’ . . . But in this case, the leadership of the PCA demonstrated itself to be ignorant, tone-deaf, or indifferent to the outcry that almost everyone else could see was inevitable. . . . One might argue that the PCA’s intentions were honorable, and that it’s a shame that we live in a world in which such polarization exists. I would offer no rebuttal to that argument. But the PCA’s decision to include David French on this panel was a bad one, and they should have known it.”2

As the Assembly convened, with few recommendations originating with the Overtures likely to advance past this gathering, this Assembly could have easily transpired in thirty-six hours, if not for the many extra-curricular events and Permanent Committee (PC) program presentations on Wednesday afternoon. The GA had to continue, however, since it had become an income stream for the Administrative Committee (AC); still, this Assembly would have considerably less drama than previous years.

After retiring Moderator Fred Greco’s fine sermon on “The Blessing of the Bible,” the Assembly attended to its pro forma matters and approved several amendments to the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO). One of those (O7) would seek to route any overtures that amended any standard (the RAO as well as the Book of Church Order [BCO]) to the Overtures Committee (OC) first for recommendation, instead of giving the Permanent Committees (PC) an advantage and favored status (those committees could still, of course, be heard).

BCO amendments from the previous year passed overwhelmingly among the presbyteries and despite a few passionate floor speeches were adopted handily. The only debate was a last-ditch effort by progressives to derail an amendment that prohibited using ordained titles for those who were not ordained.

PCA Metrics

Little substance arose from the Permanent Committee recommendations, although it was becoming clearer that the PCs had grown accustomed to some slight accountability from the three-day Assembly while retaining growing spending power and much self-determination for the remaining 99% of each year. The combined income of the PCA for the second year in a row exceeded $200M (3073), as below compared to 5 years ago (Min47GA, 186).

2024 2019
That the AC 2025 budget of $3,702,519 be approved. $3,017,350
That the CDM 2025 budget of $2,698,700 be approved. $1,868,500
That the CC 2025 budget of $36,674,848 be approved. $30,287,905
That the CTS 2025 budget of $10,506,366 be approved. $8,795,721
That the Geneva 2025 budget of $6,310,798 be approved. $3,167,895
That the MNA 2025 budget of $30,237,191 be approved. $19,133,112
That the MTW 2025 budget of $76,032,310 be approved. $64,268,030
That the PCAF 2025 budget of $2,419,270 be approved. $1,417,000
That the RUF 2025 budget of $59,495,241 be approved. $15,707,891
That the RH 2025 budget of $4,220,000 be approved. $2,745,000
Total of all Budgets: 232,297,243 $150,408,4044

The four largest committee budgets—reaching $200M between them—were Mission to the World (MTW) ($76M), Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) ($59.5M), Covenant College ($36.7M), and Mission to North America ($30M).

MNA continued to strive to increase the number of PCA churches to 3,000 over ten years,5 although that ambitious target seemed as elusive as prior attempts to grow the church by numbers. Still, MNA pledged to “facilitate the multiplication of PCA churches in the US and Canada from 1,932 [includes 1627 churches + 305 missions at end of 2022] to 3,000 congregations by 2033” (601). That calls for a successive net increase of 107 churches each year. For this year and for future years, the expansion goals may be tracked as below.

MNA Expansion Goals (June 2024)

 Year  2022 2023 (+/-) 2024 (+/-) 2025 (+/-) 2026 (+/-)
Churches and Missions  1932  1929 (-3)
Needed/year to meet Goal  +107 +3 +214 +3 +321 +3 +428 +3

Although the PCA had a small net loss of three churches during this first year of the campaign (twelve added, eleven dissolved, and four transferred; 2076), still, ten church planters had been placed in the field the past year (607). Compared to other NAPARC denominations, we held our own. Moreover, a mid-year symposium on how to reach these ambitious goals led to enthusiasm which could improve results in the future.

One can recall several previous attempts at such modeling. The adoption of a 1984 motion reflected MNA’s optimism earlier: “That our churches continue to strive toward our goal of 6% growth, recognizing that in older, static communities this may not be achievable, but in new and dynamic communities, and in young churches, even 13% annual growth is often realized. With an average growth in churches of 6% and with expected new church additions our goal of doubling the denomination between 1982 and 1992 will be achieved. Our growth in 1983 was 5.7%” (Min12GA, 149). The 2024 communicant membership growth was almost 1.9%.

For another historical precedent, church growth in the PCA for a five-year period (1985-1989) indicated an overall membership growth rate of 1–2% (see my Irony, 161–169, 257ff). Also, in 1994, the PCA added a net eight churches, and was growing at 2.75% per year from 1990–95. In comparison to the ambitious “Vision 2000” plan for 1990–95, the PCA had seen a net increase of sixty-seven churches over that five-year period. Should that have continued for the next five years, the effort could have been renamed the not-so-catchy “Vision 1189.” Indeed, a Vision 1200 or 1300 might not have been so bad, except for the slight miscalculation by the Vision 2000 projection. Thankfully, Vision 2000 was soon discarded to the dustbin of other failed plans—forty years later, the PCA was still only approaching 2000 churches. Notwithstanding the visionary programmatic shortfall, the successes of faithful churches would last for generations.

MTW had similarly ambitious goals: “As we continue to look toward our 2030 goals of 63 new countries engaged, 192 new cities engaged, 486 church plants, 29 new campus ministries, 38 new unreached people groups, and 212 new church planting support ministries” (702). Although our primary missions force declined from 615 to 543 long-term missionaries over the past five years (711), more countries (713) were impacted. The MTW global reach has been expanding.

MTW missionaries as reported by MTW are below (441).

Ministry Personnel Plans 2021 2022 2023 2024 Plan 2025 Plan
Long-Term Missionaries 588 570 543 530 525
Short-Term Missionaries 59 66 51 40 30
Initial Term Missionaries 35 55 65
Intern Missionaries 48 75 92 100 120
Volunteers 290 1026 818 900

It might be an educational exercise sometime to invite unbiased organizational consultants to measure how much the per-unit cost was to plant churches or to plant missionary churches or to establish RUF works (as a per capita amount of supplement for the educational institutions could also be exhibited).

Since one overture sought to quantify the number of M. Div. students at Covenant Seminary (and the number of full-time students at Covenant College), the published budget amounts could be used for total expenditures relative to units as noted or with other reasonable adjustments.7

One area of decreased controversy is noteworthy: by 2024, same-sex codification—from 2018 to the present with successive modifications—was overwhelmingly enacted. If a longitudinal focus is permitted, in 2018 the OC could not obtain a majority to add to the BCO a ‘one-man-and-one-woman’ standard for marriage. That, however, eventually passed, despite the tired argument that it was not needed since the standards were so clear. Then from 2019–22, various other definitions prohibiting same-sex attraction were tried (some narrowly failing in the lower courts, despite Assembly approval). Notwithstanding, the 2022 GA and the 2023 GA adopted clearer language on same-sex attraction. The 2024 GA ratified its clearest statement to date on the topic (by amending BCO 8-2 and 9-3 to include this wording for any officer: “He should conform to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, and in his convictions, character, and conduct.”), a trajectory that seemed in line with traditional morality.

The work of the Overtures Committee (see Part 2) would indicate a continuation of more conservative stances. Indeed, even before the report of the OC to the floor with these positions at this Assembly, there was wailing and gnashing of progressive social media teeth. From the first half of this Assembly, it certainly seems that the more doctrinal-oriented segments were getting things done.

Notes

  1. Attendance (2160) was slightly less than the levels of the 49th GA (2385) or the 50th GA (2301).
  2. Warren Cole Smith, “Editor’s Notebook: The PCA/David French Debacle,” Ministry Watch (blog), May 18, 2024.
  3. All page references in parentheses are cited from the Commissioners’ Handbook, the pre-Assembly edition. Should there be any differences between the initial and final wording, the wording of the Minutes will be used.
  4. While one committee almost quadrupled, over the same period MNA also increased by over 33%, and the other major PCs increased in excess of 20% each. For the five-year period, including Covid, rather than any committee trimming expenses, overall budgets for all departments of the PCA increased almost $82M (54.4%) or 10.9% each year. Compared to local church incomes for the period, this is a significant increase for the various bureaucracies with an annual membership growth rate of 2%.
  5. With 1929 churches on record at the end of 2023, that would mean that a net 107 churches per year on average must be added to succeed. The first year was slightly behind schedule (despite the noble aspirations), and each year the required average would have to increase, lest the PCA bureaucracy eventually retire this difficult to attain goal.
  6. In this first year of tracking, we use the more optimistic count. The Stated Clerk’s report (p. 207 of the final distribution) lists a gain of 14 churches, with a loss of 19 for a net change of -5 to the total number of churches.
  7. Total MNA budget of $30.2M divided by 10 of churches planted might yield a per church plant cost. Total MTW budget divided by 570 missionaries (combination of L/t and S/t missionaries) = per missionary cost of ca. $134,000, which seems to be within range. One could further calculate: Total RUF budget divided by the # of RUFs to arrive at a per RUF cost (assuming that, once planted, these would remain self-funded). Similarly, the Total CTS budget divided by # of M. Div. students could soon be calculated. Further, the Total CC budget divided by ca 820 students = per student cost of $44,275.

©David Hall. All Rights Reserved.

Part Two


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    Post authored by:

  • David Hall
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    Reverend David W. Hall is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children and grandparents of eight grandchildren. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. Previously, he served as Pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1984–2003) and as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia (1980–1984). He was ordained to pastoral ministry in 1980. He was educated at Covenant Theological Seminary and is the editor and author of several volumes.

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One comment

  1. Let’s say for the sake of argument, it was best that there was significant pushback against David French coming to GA (though PCA people telling someone “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” is no bueno and it’s a shame French’s family is no longer attending the PCA church in the Nashville area).

    Unfortunately, there are too many in the PCA flirting with those associated with ESS when the Nashville Statement was endorsed in 2017, especially when many thought it was not a necessary gesture. – https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2019/07/the-nashville-statement-and-the-pca

    There are also too many flirting with very questionable doctrine and its mixing with US politics, even to the point of acts of violence.
    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/charismatic-revival-fury-the-new-apostolic-reformation/id1738709631

    Third, there are too many flirting with, not only hagiographical, but downright syncretistic nonsense. — https://jonmcnaughton.com/

    I think these are interrelated in many ways. It would explain why someone like a Tim Alberta can be openly questioned at his dad’s funeral if he is even saved. It also sheds light on all the hubub that has gone down at places like Liberty University, Bryan College, and Cedarville University. That’s just tip of the iceberg stuff.

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